Stuck: Part Four
His name, I found out, was Jeffrey. He told me to call him Jeff.
He was a pound sniper. Upon finding out that a Coconut Jubjub had gotten stuck in the pound, he had started up a surveillance system of sorts, and was prepared for the exact moment when the pound was opened again. When I told him that my owner had promised to get me back out, he told me not to worry about it; he had gotten me within two seconds of the pound reopening. My previous owner probably still loved me.
Unfortunately, he didn’t say anything about giving me back.
He had another pet with him when he picked me up; an orange Grundo named Sharon. Sharon tried to start a conversation with me, but I refused to talk. I was still in shock.
Jeffrey was of medium height, and had wispy brown hair. His eye color appeared to be brown as well behind his glasses. He was friendly at first, happily telling me that I had just gotten him a chance to be a ‘top avatar collector’, but gradually grew silent when I refused to talk more than my first terse questions required. I noticed that he and Sharon exchanged worried looks now and then, but ignored them.
His Neohome was one of the nicer ones I had seen. It was made mostly of brick, with a few gardens in the front filled with middling rare flowers. I mutely followed Sharon as she raced inside, calling out greetings. I walked inside, refusing to acknowledge the tasteful arrangement of comfortable furniture, and was promptly tackled by a pea Chia.
“Hi, new sibling!” The Chia was quickly followed by a rampaging Snowbunny who scrambled to get a hold on my coconut. “What’s your name? Mine’s Ralph. What’s your story?”
After I was silent for a few moments, Sharon cleared her throat. “His name is Sojo, Ralph. Now, come on, don’t crowd him.”
Ralph jumped off of me, and the Snowbunny followed him. A Huggy wandered into the room, looked around, and latched itself onto Sharon’s head.
“Sorry if I’m being kinda exuberant, that’s a favorite word of mine, but I’m always so excited to see a new sibling come in, even if they have to leave after a while, and- HI JEFF!”
Jeffrey laughed as Ralph launched himself at his head, carefully catching the tiny pet before he could fall. “Nice to see you too, little guy. Now, Sojo, if I could have a word with you...?”
I hesitated, then nodded and followed him into the kitchen.
The room was just as well done as the last had been, down to the neat little basket of fruit that had been placed on the table. I grabbed a piece of the fruit without thinking- I was hungry, after all- and started chewing.
Jeffrey sat down across from me, gave me a look, and sighed. “You won’t be happy here, will you?”
I shook my head stubbornly.
“I didn’t think so.” He shook his head sadly, then leaned back and grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil from the counter. “Your owner’s name is Terri, right?”
I nodded in surprise.
“Okay then. I’ll just send her this Neomail,” he flourished the paper at me, “to let her know that I’ve got you. We’ll set up a time for an exchange.”
I swallowed my fruit in surprise. “Just like that?”
“Well, why not?” He grinned mischievously, shaking the pencil at me. “You just got me the avatar, after all.”
I looked down, and realized that I had been holding a slice of Funnydew Melon. It reminded me a bit of Mellon- the name, not the fruit.
Jeffrey picked up a slip of paper with an avatar on it that had poofed itself onto the table and sighed blissfully. “Ah, yes. I’ll get them all sometime. Alright, then.” He wandered out of the kitchen cheerfully, and, as I watched through the kitchen window, put the letter into his mailbox.
“So you aren’t staying.”
I turned around, noticing that Sharon was leaning on the doorway, examining me with almost sad eyes. I vaguely noted that Ralph was bouncing off the furniture in the background.
“No. I’m going back to my owner,” I said, now able to talk, since I knew that I would get back to Terri. Strange, but the thought wasn’t as much of a relief as I would have thought it to be a week ago.
“It’s too bad. Jeff’s usually out trying to improve his score at Ultimate Bullseye, so it would have been nice to have someone slightly more mature to talk to every now and then.” She sighed, then waltzed over to the table and plopped down on one of the chairs. “You’re different, you know.”
“You are.” She sounded like she was being very patient, which slightly irritated me. “Usually, when we get painted pets in here, they’re either raving about getting back to their owners or thanking us a hundred times over for saving them from the lab ray. But you’re in between. Is it because you spent so long a time in the pound?”
I was silent, starting to think over that. Why wasn’t I ranting and raving?
After my pause, she hurriedly continued. “Not that I blame you or anything. My first owner was trying to transfer me around among her friends when Jeff got me. I practically begged him to keep me so that I wouldn’t have to keep getting put back in that place. The pets there just seem so harsh, like wild creatures-“
She looked up, startled. “Pardon?”
“They’re not creatures.” I turned away so I wouldn’t have to look at her. “Why does everyone always talk about them like that, anyway? Who’s ever taken the time to talk to an unpainted pet? The ones I met seemed fine. Maybe a bit harsh, used to their life, but not creatures.”
“Well, I guess that’s a bit of a strong word, but some of them have absolutely no sense of civility or- hey, where’re you going?”
I had gotten up, and was headed to the door. I muttered something that sounded like ‘bathroom’, just wanting to get away.
Yes, Sharon’s words bothered me, but she was free to her own opinions. What bothered me more was the realization that I had had the exact same opinions just a week ago. Why had I been so closed-minded? And when had my thoughts changed?
“Oh, Sojo.” I looked up; Jeffrey had come back in and was grinning down at me. “Your owner replied right away, seemed almost hysterically eager to get you back. We’ve set up a time tomorrow morning. In the meantime, you can use one of he extra bedrooms, ‘kay?”
“Alright,” I mumbled, following him as he headed up the staircase.
The next morning dawned bright and thunder storming. Ralph and Sharon elected to stay home, so Jeffrey and I were the only ones to brave the winds and rain. We dashed down the streets under his checkered umbrella, heading down the quickest path toward the pound.
We reached the building and dashed inside, panting for breath. Jeffrey shook off his umbrella and closed it, then led me up to Dr. Death.
“Back again, I see,” the Techo growled, eyeing me briefly before glaring at the human. I could have sworn that he winked at me.
“Yep. Sojo decided he wanted to go home. Terri’s already in there, right?”
“Yes.” Dr. Death sighed wearily as Jeffrey handed him the small sack of Neopoints. Then Jeffrey turned to me and patted me on the head. Well, actually, on the coconut that was attached to my head, but that wasn’t important.
“It was nice meeting you, Sojo. Thanks for the avatar!”
I mumbled something noncommittal before following Dr. Death through the back door. As soon as the door was closed, he turned around to look at me in amusement. “So. You’re back.”
“Yeah.” I shuffled my feet.
“You’ve changed,” he said softly. “You know, you may still look like a Raree, but I think you’ve become a Poundee inside. And that’s a good thing.”
“At least, Mellon and them would say so,” I replied, smiling briefly.
“They were quite impressed by you,” he continued, now turning around and leading me through the passage, “seeing as you were a painted pet that could learn to see from the perspective of others. It did them all good, and I think they’ll all be a bit less suspicious now.”
“Is that a good thing?” I questioned, my smile turning sarcastic.
“Perhaps.” He had stopped, and we were standing in front of a door. For a moment, his hand rested on the lock; then he turned to me. “You could stay, you know.”
“Some pets get ‘lost’ in the pound, you could say.” He grinned at me conspiratorially. “They get put in the harder-to-find cells, or the ones where fungus has almost completely overgrown the door, so you can’t see the pet. I could distract your owner, and you could stay here.”
The offer seemed strangely appealing. I could stay. I could finish up that argument with Raw about the nutrition of spooky foods. I could get Vent to teach me how to keep my fur flat under my coconut (it always frizzed up, and she was an expert at arranging fur). I could keep trying to impress Mellon.
“I can’t,” I said softly. “Terri would be devastated.”
“I understand,” Dr. Death said roughly. “Do know that you can always come and visit, though.”
And he opened the door. I could see Terri on the other side of the bars of my cage, waving at me eagerly, and- was she crying? I hesitantly stepped into the cage.
Then, just before Dr. Death closed and locked the door, I saw a familiar pet smirking at me from across the hall, behind Terri, and sighed.
Mellon would not take this well.
To be continued...