Abandoned: Part Three
The creak of the iron gate opening attracted Taite’s attention from her self-pitying. She looked up at a blue Shoyru clutching a Bagatelle purse, her large wings sticking out behind her. The Shoyru glanced in her direction, but strolled past Taite to a small bed on the other side of the room. She tossed her purse onto the bedspread and collapsed next to it. Only then did she acknowledge at the white Usul.
“Hello there!” she said in a sprightly manner. “I’m guessing you’re my new roommate...” She held Taite’s gaze expectantly, as if there might be some other reason for her being there.
Taite tried not to take her bad mood out on the unsuspecting Shoyru, so she decided to keep her answer just short of snarky. “Yeah.”
“Cool!” There was a pause. “Oh, I guess I should introduce myself, shouldn’t I? I’m Dior! You are...?”
“Taite,” the Usul supplied. She stood up and headed for the other bed. Her luggage had been dropped off about fifteen minutes before the other girl’s arrival and it lay untouched on the floor. Taite grabbed one of the bags and opened it, then began unfolding the first piece of clothing.
“Taite, huh? That’s such a pretty name! What does it mean? I bet it means something amazing! My name means ‘present’. Isn’t that strange?” Something must have sidetracked the babbling girl from her tangent because suddenly she stopped and said quietly, “Unpacking? I wouldn’t bother to do that yet, if I were you.”
Taite froze. “Why?” Hope sparked in her. Maybe this was just a temporary room... Maybe she was really staying a room like she had stayed in last night, sparkling clean with expensive furniture...
Dior frowned slightly. “It’s just that most pets that are actually worth something are adopted before a week’s time.”
Silence filled the air.
Worth something? Those two words stung Taite. Wasn’t every pet worth something? Didn’t every pet deserve a good owner and a decent Neohome? But the way Dior was talking, it sounded as if she believed some pets here didn’t merit that, as if they were destined to be in a place like this for the rest of their lives.
“You’ve unpacked, though.” Taite’s eyes fell over the closet near Dior’s bed, overflowing with cheap t-shirts and coats. Some accessories lay covered in dust on her vanity.
At the comment, Dior’s face dropped and she turned her head away from the Usul. She was quiet for a moment before giving a soft reply. “I’ve been here three months. I’m pretty sure I won’t be leaving anytime soon.”
Taite was at a loss for words. Dior seemed fine, even if she did talk a lot. She wasn’t painted mutant or anything, so why was she seemingly stuck in this place? It was sickening to think of all the hundreds of other pets that, just like Dior, had been here for a while, despite the fact that they were adoptable. She guessed it was just easier for owners to save their money, instead of spending it on adoption fees. But didn’t they care about what happened to the pets?
Of course they didn’t... Belinda had proved that.
Dior had apparently recovered in the time that Taite had been thinking, because she bounded off the bed excitedly. The Shoyru grabbed a brush that had been sitting on her dresser and ran it through her hair a few times. She glanced over at Taite. “You ready?” she questioned, looking at the girl’s freshly groomed appearance.
Dior laughed. “Didn’t you hear the knock at the door? That means some Neopian is here and wants to look at us. You’d better get used it, because they’re frequently wandering the halls. The workers lead groups of prospective adopters around the building all day long and they stop at random doors to look at the pets there. Others, who are interested in a specific pet, just give someone at the desk a name or a description and they’re taken to pets that match up with that. Usually, though, it’s just the tour groups that stop by.”
Taite had honestly heard nothing, but she stood up all the same. “Okay, then. Let’s go.”
Dior led the way, slamming the gate closed as she passed through it. She strolled down the hall to the front door and opened it promptly, revealing yet another pink Uni. This one was small and muscular and looked fairly masculine.
Taite raised her eyebrows. Was it some sort of regulation that all the workers, even the guys, had to be pink Unis? Suzette, the secretary who had greeted Taite when she had first arrived with Belinda, had been a blue Cybunny. Tristan, who had led Taite and a bunch of others to Liv, had been a Lupe. And everyone knew Dr. Death was a Techo. Why was it that they didn’t look the same as everyone else?
Dior didn’t seem as interested in the pink Uni conundrum as Taite. Instead, she surveyed the group of Neopians standing behind the pet. After a second or two, she grinned and greeted him. “Hello, Todd. Tour duty again?”
The Uni nodded. “Third time this week- I think Liv’s swamped with training all the new employees.” Now, he turned to the group behind him, which consisted of two adult Neopians, three or four teenagers, and a set of twin girls about seven years old. “Okay, everyone. This is Dior. As I’m sure you can tell, she is a blue Shoyru. She’s at level one. Her muscle is fairly strong and her health is a nineteen out of nine. Her defense, movements, and intelligence are average.” Now, he paused to look down at a sheet of paper in his hands. “And this is... Taite, a white Usul. She’s level two. Her strength, defense, and moves are average. She’s read countless books, bringing her intelligence to an impressive ‘genius’. If any of you want to ask Dior or Taite any questions, feel free.”
Immediately, the two seven-year-olds rushed toward Dior. A bored-looking adult, who must have been their father, stood off to the side, watching the girls talk to the Shoyru.
One of the teenagers stepped forward to Taite. He looked about seventeen, with his raven hair in a tousled mess. The Uni trotted after him.
“Hi, Taite. I’m Todd, one of the adoption workers. This is Brad. He’s looking for a pet to give to his older sister for her birthday.”
“Hey.” Brad glanced over her before saying, “My sister Louise lives in Shenkuu. She has a Gnorbu, but that’s her only pet. Her job at the Lunar Temple keeps her busy, so she can’t have a high maintenance Neopet. Can you tell me what you like to do for fun, what you like to eat, and so on?”
High maintenance? Taite almost snorted a laugh, but stopped herself just in time. She would definitely qualify as high maintenance. Taite figured the best way to get her out of this situation was to tell the truth.
“I love to travel, shop, and read plenty of books. Plus, I’m very big into gourmet foods...”
Taite lay on the bed, staring at the grey ceiling. She could only think how much she hated this stupid room. It was as if the Grey Faerie herself had decorated the place. The white Usul shook her head and rolled over onto her stomach.
Then, there was a knock at the door.
Taite let out a groan and Dior muttered something under her breath. The Shoyru didn’t even bother getting up to answer the door. Instead, she stayed sitting on the floor, talking to Taite from the other side of the room.
“The Neopians usually come around quite a bit, but six times in one hour is pretty unusual! I guess it’s just a busy day for adoptions. Could you get the door? I’m tired of getting up and answering it.”
Taite laughed half-heartedly. Her first day here and she was already tired of the dozens of people staring at her, questioning her, trying to make small talk. How aggravated must Dior be by the whole ordeal? Taite shook her head and trudged down the hall, toward the door. She opened it, expecting it to be yet another pink Uni leading a procession of goggling Neopians. What she found was a pink Uni, yes, but definitely not in the manner she had expected.
“Bless your souls! I’m actually stuffed for once! I may never eat again.” The words came from Dior, who was at the moment collapsed on the floor, crumbs lining her mouth.
“That may be for the best. I’ve seen what they give you all to eat. It’s no better than gruel!”
Taite sat silently on her bed. She closed her eyes, tipped her head back, and let the last of the Krakuberry Juice find its way down her gullet. She listened to the melodic voices of her friends and sought comfort in the sound. Asha, Kiran, and Cardea were probably the nicest pets she had ever met. She had only met them yesterday (Had it only been twenty-four hours?), and already they had accepted her. After talking to her for only two or three hours, they had felt inclined to befriend her. Of course, they hadn’t said so themselves, but did they really need to? Risking their jobs to smuggle in a feast pretty much assured their friendship. Not to mention that this feast could top the amazing five-course meal she had been served yesterday.
Dior had just been introduced to the trio tonight and, as was her way, already seemed right at home with them. The merriment hadn’t ceased since the three pink Unis had shown up at the door. Taite was just thankful that another group of hopeful adopters hadn’t stopped by. The gaping and pointing and question-asking was really too much for her.
As usual, the Usul was lost in thought when a voice surrounding her dragged her back to the real world. The enthusiastic chatter belonged to her roommate. Shocker.
“Honestly, I can’t thank you guys enough! It’s been months since I’ve eaten anything of substance. This reminds me of the old days, when I actually had a home. I used to live in Faerieland with my former owner, Nova. Nova was a chef in Fyora’s palace, and she used to cook the most delicious foods...” The Shoyru broke off, her wings fluttering sadly. Her round eyes were suddenly watery and she blinked a few times.
Seeing the girl’s nostalgia, Asha took control of the conversation. “You know, even when you have an owner, it’s not always a good thing. In my opinion, the perfect owner is a myth. Neopia was better when it was just pets, no people. Of course, back then I’m sure we weren’t considered ‘pets’. Anyway, Tasha is the most spoiled owner! She practically forced me to volunteer here once she found out that Kiran was going! What did she tell me? Something like... ‘Ashy (and yes, she calls me Ashy), I don’t have time to run you all over the globe on vacations. I want to take my own vacations. There’s a reason they call it a getaway. I’m sure volunteering at the Neopian Pound won’t be terribly boring.’”
Kiran let out a fake cough. “That’s typical Tasha! She’s a mothering type, now isn’t she? At least Daddy had good intentions when he made me volunteer here. Pretty much, he told me I had to give back to my community or I would never see anything but the walls of my Neohome again. But I can’t honestly say that it’s not a good idea. Daddy’s always at work, and I’ve never liked any of the maids he’s hired. Plus, I’m his only pet, so I have no one to keep me company.”
Cardea was stretched out comfortably on Dior’s bed. When the conversation turned to the downside of owners, she had curled herself up and seemed particularly interested in the monotone bedspread.
Kiran had obviously noticed this, but apparently she didn’t care. In a sugary tone that was obviously put on, she called to her, “So Cardea, what about you? Anything wrong with Banner?”
Cardea glared at Kiran, but Taite could see in her eyes that she had no choice but to answer her. ‘What’s up with that?’ she wondered silently. Still, Taite knew better than to vocalize her concern.
When the small Uni finally did speak, it was hesitantly. “Banner... was wonderful, perfect even. And then, we won the lottery. She was the only winner, so all the money went to us. After she collected her winnings, she pounded my brother and sister and bought me a Starry Uni Morphing Potion because she said a Kau looked too lower-class. Since then, all she’s done is shop, shop, and shop some more. One day, she came home with a Pink Paint Brush and announced that Tasha, Asha’s owner, had talked her into sending me off to work at the Neopian Pound for the summer.”
Taite looked around the room at her friends. Cardea looked sick, Kiran satisfied, Asha disappointed, and Dior upset. It was strange how the past held such painful memories for all of them, and yet each one took in differently. Of course, as soon as Taite thought this, she realized that all four of them were staring at her, waiting.
‘Okay... My turn.’ But did she really want to tell them her history and unearth all those raw emotions that were barely buried in the first place?
One look at Asha’s sympathetic face and Kiran’s determined one told her the answer. It didn’t matter if she wanted to or not. Taite had no choice. Half of her wanted to be accepted by these girls, and the other half wanted to vent about her past. Those two feelings combined made it impossible to keep quiet.
“It all started when Belinda’s sister decided to come and pay us a visit. My Aunt Bridgette is a fairly insane person; she lives in a rundown mansion deep inside the Haunted Woods, letting her millions of Neopoints waste away to nothing. As long as I’ve known her, she’s only left her house that one time she came to stay with us at Belinda’s Neohome. She’s quite a bit younger than you’d think- only twenty-three. Anyway, Aunt Bridgette announces that she’s leaving Neopia and will add her enormous fortune to Belinda’s fairly large amount of riches- on one condition. Belinda must agree to take in River, my Aunt Bridgette’s overachieving Uni. Belinda says she feels inclined to, but we already have four pets and... Well, the rest is history.”
Taite ended the story abruptly and took in a deep breath. The words had just spilled out of her from nowhere, and now that they were out, things definitely didn’t feel any better. The Usul blinked a few times and turned her head away. When would the pain ease its grip on her heart? When would these terrible wounds Belinda had left her with heal?
“Okay, new subject!” Asha announced brightly. “Let’s play a game! Hmmm... How about we see how many pink Unis we can spot when just by sticking our head out the door!”
This sent the other girls into howling laughter. Even Taite smiled a bit. So the others had noticed the hordes of pink Unis storming this place! She leaned back and asked Asha, “Yeah, what’s that about anyway?”
Kiran pushed herself to all fours and then waved a single hoof in the air obnoxiously. “Ooooh! Me! Me! Let me tell her, please! I just love this story!”
Asha rolled her eyes, but nodded. “Fine, fine. Just don’t go making up lies about a secret Pink Uni Morphing Potion that only the Neopian Pound has access to or anything, okay?”
Kiran took inhaled loudly and plopped herself back down on the floor. “Okay, so the story goes like this: Liv, who is the polar opposite of Dr. Death, took charge of the adoption aspect of the pound some years ago. She turned the place upside down. Believe it or not, it used to be much worse than it is now. She was so wonderful and got so much praise that a group of female adoption workers decided to honor her birthday one year by taking one of the cheap Uni Morphing Potions and then painting themselves pink. Whoever actually owns this sad excuse of a business thought their idea was cute and gradually made it mandatory that all pets who worked in the Adoption Wing be pink Unis.”
“Is this true?” Taite looked to Asha and Cardea for confirmation. Both girls nodded and Taite erupted into giggles. “Wow... I cannot believe-”
A hollow rapping cut off the Usul’s flow of words. The songbird voice of Liv herself called out. “Dior, Taite, come out here for a minute!”
Asha, Kiran, and Cardea exchanged nervous looks. They weren’t supposed to be here. Liv would be mad that they had broken the rules to chat with their friends and share in a dinner that was intended for pets that had just arrived at the pound.
Thinking quickly, Dior opened the door to her small closet and beckoned the Unis inside. They slipped in, and Dior closed the door to their grumblings. “Coming, Liv!”
The two girls rushed down the hall. Dior reached the wooden door first and opened it to reveal Liv. Taite stood behind the Shoyru and watched as the smiling pet stepped aside to reveal a plump, blonde woman with a dark-haired girl clinging to her leg. They looked somewhat familiar, but Taite was sure that she didn’t know them. Maybe they were here to see Dior...
Then, the woman pointed straight at Taite and bellowed, “That one! That’s the adorable Usul that my Monday has fallen in love with. If Monday cannot have her, we will not adopt any other pet.” The words might have sounded kind coming from a sweeter voice, but this lady’s tone held no compassion or tenderness. It was cold, rude, and demanding. Taite shuddered and looked helplessly at Liv.
She spoke, but her words offered Taite no comfort. “Taite, meet your new owners: Desdemona and her daughter, Monday.”
To be continued...