Sunshine and the Sphere: Part Two
Rae woke up to the sound of his aunt thumping on his bedroom door. “Raeden Lithlock, get up now! You’re late!”
Rae moaned and rolled over. Out of his small window he could see a faint tinge of colour on the horizon. It was almost dawn, and he was indeed late. The red Kougra moaned again and pulled himself to his feet. He was sore, cold and tired. Grumbling something under his breath, he pulled on the uniform he was required to wear for work and stumbled out of his room.
He paused to give his face and paws a quick wash in the bathroom. The muddy towels he had left there from last night were gone, along with the jeans he had gotten so filthy. He suspected Emie had gotten up early to wash them before his Aunt saw them. Rae smiled gratefully and headed downstairs.
In the kitchen he was met by Emie and the five other pets who boarded at his aunt’s house. One particularly surly looking Eyrie glowered at him. “Went for another midnight hike, Rae?”
“Leave him alone, Jarred,” said Emie as she poured some batter into the frypan. “If anyone’s to be blamed for waking you up, it’s me.”
Rae sat down at the table and smiled at his island-coloured Kougra friend as she set a plate of pancakes in front of him. “Thanks, Emie. You don’t have to cook for me, you know.”
“Knowing you, you’d probably burn them anyway,” she smirked.
Rae laughed and began to eat. He’d have to hurry if he wanted to get to work on time. Thankfully, Miss Bronton was in another part of the house, most probably reading her mail or checking accounts. He was relieved. He really didn’t want to have to talk to her this early in the morning. Checking the time on the clock hanging on the wall, he wolfed the last of his pancakes and grabbed his cap.
“Hey,” Jarred called as the Kougra made for the door, “Miss Bronton said she wanted to talk to you.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll have to talk this evening, or something. I’m majorly late.”
Jarred shrugged and turned back to his breakfast. Emie waved goodbye, and with a parting smile Rae turned and ran down the road towards the shops.
Rae worked as a checkout boy at the local grocery shop. The hours were long, it was tiring work, and the pay was bad, but at least he could afford his rent. The other six pets who boarded at his aunt’s house were in similar situations. Emie worked as a waitress in a small restaurant.
When Rae and his mother had parted, his aunt had offered to take him in free of charge, but Rae preferred to pay rent like the rest of the boarders. He wanted to be self sufficient. He didn’t hate his job, but he didn’t exactly like it either. It was just a steppingstone until he could get a better position, maybe go to college. Not that that was likely to happen soon, he reminded himself. Especially not since he’d met Pouncer.
When Rae finally got to the store he worked at, the manager was waiting for him, tapping his foot. Rae flinched and tried to smile and sound apologetic at the same time.
“Sorry I’m late, sir.”
The Chia rolled his eyes. “Again. Nevermind, just get to work.”
Rae grinned with relief. “Thank you, sir. Right away, sir.”
The day passed slowly. Rae was still tired from his lack of sleep the night before, and more than once found himself nodding off. The clock on the wall was moving unbearably slow, and a trapped fly was humming against the window. Rae found his attention wandering.
Rae jerked awake and looked up. Standing in front of the counter was a small island Kougra wearing a waitress’s dress and a smile. Rae grinned.
“Emie. Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“I got off early, and I thought I’d come and walk you home.” She checked her watch. “Your shift’s just finished.”
Rae stifled a whoop with great difficulty. “Sounds great to me. Let’s go.”
The red Kougra held the door open for his friend so they could leave the shop and walked onto the cobbled street. Rae sighed as he looked around. The late afternoon sun was barely illuminating the grey tones of the houses and shops. The town could have been a nice place once; maybe even cosy. But now everything was just grey. The street, the buildings, even the trees were dead and depressing. But, still, this was home.
Rae knew Emie had a reason for wanting to walk home with him, and he thought he knew what it was. His suspicions were confirmed when she started speaking.
“I hope you’re not angry about last night.”
“How did I know this subject was going to come up?”
Emie smiled innocently. “What, you can’t accept an apology?”
“There’s nothing to apologise for, Emie.” Rae took his cap off and stuffed it into a pocket. “I just know what you’re going to say next. And the answer is, once again, I went for a walk.”
The small Kougra sighed and scuffed her shoes along the road. “Okay. If you don’t want to talk, I can’t make you. I just wanted to ask you not to go out again tonight. You need your sleep, Rae.”
The red Kougra quirked an eyebrow, looking amused. “I’m not much fun as a zombie, am I?”
“No, unfortunately. Though it is much easier to poke fun at you without you realizing.”
Rae laughed. Emie always managed to make him feel cheerful.
“You won’t, will you?”
“What?” Rae realized a second too late that his mind had been wandering again.
“Don’t go out again tonight. Please.”
“Okay, then. I won’t.”
Emie smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Rae.”
Rae stopped walking and turned around in surprise. A ripple was running through the crowd behind them as pets moved aside. Standing at least a head higher than any of the other shoppers and causing the commotion was a huge, mean looking shadow Kougra, striding through the crowd and towards Rae. “Sunshine, wait up!”
Emie stared at him for a second and then tugged on Rae’s sleeve nervously. “We’d better go, Rae.”
“It’s okay, Emie,” Rae hissed quickly. “I know this guy.”
Emie’s jaw dropped. “You know him?!”
Rae flinched inwardly, realizing what it must look like to her. Pouncer wasn’t exactly the most delicate pet in Neopia. He was tall and thickset, with a long, sharp, jutting jawbone below one steel-grey eye. The other eye was permanently closed, the result of three thick scars that ran across his face. He wore ragged and loose-fitting clothes over his shadow fur, and had a long, loping gait.
Great, Rae thought. She’s already worried about where I go at night; now she has to meet Pouncer.
“It’s alright,” he whispered, trying to pacify her before Pouncer caught up to them. “I know he looks a bit rough, but he’s a good guy. Trust me.”
Any further conversation was cut off abruptly as the giant Kougra shoved past several alarmed shoppers and thrust a piece of paper towards Rae. “Note for you, Sunshine.”
Rae reached out and took the folded piece of paper He read it once and grimaced. “Sure, Pouncer, I can do that.”
“Great. You want to introduce me to Twinkletoes here?”
Emie had been regarding Pouncer doubtfully, and Rae could see she wasn’t happy about being referred to as ‘Twinkletoes’. Feeling like he’d rather eat his paws, he forced a grin and motioned the small Island Kougra.
“Uh, Pouncer, this is my friend, Emie. Emie, this is Pouncer.”
Pouncer crouched down so he could look her in the face. Emie was small compared to Rae, but the huge shadow Kougra absolutely dwarfed her. “Nice to meet you, Twinkletoes.” He held out a paw and Emie reluctantly shook it.
“Uhm, it’s Emie, actually.” Her ears turned crimson, but Pouncer didn’t seem to notice.
“Sure thing, Twinkletoes. Nice meeting you. I’ll see you tonight, Sunshine.”
Pouncer stood up again and, raising a paw in goodbye, left. Just like before, the crowd gave him a wide berth.
Rae was left alone with Emie again, and was faced with the daunting task of explaining to her who Pouncer was and how he knew him. He was still trying to work out how best to phrase his excuse when Emie shuffled her feet awkwardly and smiled. “Uhm, I’d better go now. I... I’ll see you this evening.”
Rae smiled and waved, but his small friend was already gone. He watched her as she dodged through the crowd. Her head was down and her shoulders were hunched. She looked worried, and Rae knew it was because of him. The red Kougra sighed and unclenched his paw. Inside was the note Pouncer had given him. It was simple, and to the point.
Meeting tonight. Same place, same time.
Rae sighed again and shoved the paper into his pocket. It was going to be another long night.
To be continued...