A Rainbow Behind Dark Clouds: Part Three
At last, the Month of Running drew slowly to a close.
So many joyous times for Neopia had passed for yet another year – Gelert Day, Uni Day, Scorchio Day, Illusen Day, the Chomby Carnival... They had kicked up a fuss that now was completely forgotten until next time the event came around.
It was the final day of the Month of Running, and as the Month of Eating loomed on the near horizon, Amy was more nervous than ever about adopting her dream pet...
It was late evening. Desperate to stay up late and taking advantage of the fact Amy was too busy to tell her to go to bed, Sakura was slouched on the straw sofa looking ridiculously tired, munching cookies to try and stay awake. Outside the blackness was obsolete and endless. A few pinprick stars shone in the high sky, most covered by dull clouds.
Although it was mid-spring and the days and nights were getting warmer, the fireplace was lit and the orange flames danced and crackled and spat relaxingly. Bandit sat opposite Sakura in his favourite armchair, utterly absorbed in yet another book, this time describing the heroic tales of Jeran. Charmy was locked up in her room and though nobody knew what she was doing the hum of music by Jazzmosis, her favourite band, escaped from through her closed door. Amy was frantically rushing around the only spare room in the house – which was soon to be occupied. It was going to be the bedroom of the Gelert she was adopting when he arrived the next day.
Amy didn’t hear Bandit pad into the spare room, as she was so busy. She jumped in shock when he spoke.
“Sakura fell asleep on the sofa,” he said, the tone in his voice utterly flat.
“Oh, right...” said Amy, completely distracted. “Um... Could you get her into bed, please, Bandit?”
Bandit nodded, smiled, and turned, lumbering back into the living room. He poked at the fire cautiously, laid his book out flat on his armchair, and then went to Sakura. She was deep in sleep, twisted in an odd position. Bandit didn’t wish to disturb her serenity, so he awkwardly struggled to untangle her arms and scoop her up into his strong arms. He walked to her bedroom and made his way across the grubby carpet to lay her on the yellow bed. He had to sweep some toys off the covers before drawing them around her shoulders. Sakura murmured and stirred but remained asleep. A shaft of pale moonlight shone clearly through a gap where Sakura’s disco-patterned curtains parted, and Bandit went to shut them. Before he did, he looked around Sakura’s room before it was cast into darkness.
He liked to keep his own bedroom in complete order, always neat and tidy, everything organised and in its place.
Sakura was his complete opposite – her room was a complete tip. Toys and clothes of all sizes were strewn over every available surface while her cupboards and closet were bare. It was hard to tell where one item ended and another began, or even to see the carpet. Sakura had all kinds of toys scattered under her large bed and over the floor – plushies she wasn’t particularly interested in, games that mostly had cards or pieces missing, the action figures that she adored, clockwork figurines, a couple of bouncy balls, a yoyo and a tennis racket, amongst other paraphernalia. There were also usually some wads of gum stuck to the walls or her bedposts or the underside of her windowsill and forgotten pieces of candy that she couldn’t be bothered to pick up. Bandit rolled his eyes and slipped out the room as silently as the night itself.
Since nobody else was helping Amy and she was becoming tired, Bandit decided to give his owner a hand cleaning the spare room. He explained that he had put Sakura to bed, and asked what his owner was doing.
“Just setting the room straight ready for the Gelert tomorrow,” Amy said looking flustered.
“Can I help?” Bandit asked, his voice low and quiet.
Amy looked around and nodded gratefully. The room was almost completely bare; spare a simple red bed, a red lamp sitting on the red bedside table, a plain petpet bed in the corner for the Cobrall and a single plushie – a second-hand stuffed yellow Gelert which had once been Sakura’s. Sakura was more than willing to give up a plushie – Bandit didn’t have any and Charmy had collected many when she was young, and although she didn’t play with them anymore they were too precious for her to give up. The bed was a mess, the covers and pillows strewn over it and the sheets unchecked.
“I’ll make up the bed,” announced Bandit, walking across the room and stripping the red sheets.
Amy and Bandit didn’t spend as much time alone together as they used to and they worked in silence. The atmosphere became heavy and rather awkward. Bandit was assigned more jobs and concentrated on them hard while Amy bustled around after him, straightening and perfecting things. When everything seemed to be finished they stood still beside each other, still in complete silence. Bandit took a deep breath, racking his mind for something to say. Amy coughed.
“We don’t seem as close as we used to be, do we?” Amy said at last.
Bandit shook his head. The fact was saddening, but true. The pair glanced at each other.
“We should make an effort to spend more time together,” she continued.
Bandit smirked. “That’s the second responsible thing you’ve said in two days.”
Amy smiled back. “Yeah, it is. How ‘bout that?”
They stared at each other, smiling, making a silent promise to be closer in the future.
The spare room was tidy and fit for living in. Late at night Amy had sent a message to the current owner of the pet she was adopting, eagerly reminding her that the transfer was tomorrow. Sakura was sound asleep and dreaming, but Charmy and Bandit lay awake in their tidy rooms, flat on their backs with eyes wide open. Thoughts buzzed through each of their heads, and each of them considered padding across the hallway to sneak into the other one’s room so they could talk, but neither of them carried out this thought, so the little single-floored house in Rainbow Lane stayed silence, it’s last hours of peace...
Thus, the only thing left to do was wait.
The clouds skimmed the sky. The huge half-moon drifted along as the hours crawled by. Charmy and Bandit lay restlessly awake, hoping to catch some sleep.
Tomorrow was the day everyone had been waiting for – and the day Charmy had been worrying about for almost a month.
The only thing left to do was wait the hours away.
Morning came almost as a shock. Bandit only realised that he had fallen asleep when he woke up. Bewildered, he stumbled out of bed and smoothed down his fur, making his way to the bathroom. Inevitably his elder sister had already occupied it and would most likely be in there for hours, perfecting the state of her fur and adjusting her make-up. With a tired mumble, Bandit staggered back to bed to catch a few more hours sleep.
Just as he closed his door, though, Sakura opened hers. Unlike most Kyrii, she cared nothing for her hair and unbrushed for twenty-four hours it was tangled and sticking up in places. She was already dressed in a baggy sweater that was far too big for her, boyish sneakers and her Christmas Kyrii collar. She was usually a much later riser but hadn’t slept well the previous night, perhaps because she was excited about the arrival of her new brother. She entered the kitchen and rattled around the cupboards, searching for a suitably unhealthy breakfast.
Soon after she had settled down with a bowl of Florg O’s sprinkled with sugar and served with thickly buttered toast and a glass of Neocola, Charmy walked in.
“No way are you having Neocola this early in the morning,” she said tiredly, swiping the glass, tipping it down the sink and replacing it with water. Sakura moaned, but was too tired to put up a fight. Charmy busied herself making breakfast for her and her brother, putting more slices of bead in the red Kacheek toaster and chopping up a chokato for her morning chokato toastie. And just as the toast popped, in came Bandit. He had just been to the bathroom after an hour of waiting for his sister to get out, so his fur was newly brushed and his face was fresh from washing. As usual he was wearing his trademark brown hat and scarf.
“What’ll it be for breakfast, Bandit?” Charmy asked.
She leant against a cupboard, one hand on her hip. Bandit looked at her with bleary eyes. She wasn’t wearing black again today – she had reverted back to pink – but instead of just her usual accessories she really had dolled herself up a bit. She had dusted her cheeks with pink blush and framed her lips with magenta-pink lipstick. For the first time ever she had marked a classic beauty mark on her cheek. Her cream-coloured Prissy Miss hair bow was sitting neatly on her head and her enormous earrings swung erratically from her ears. Bandit wondered if she just felt like dressing up or if, more likely, she wanted to make a good impression.
“Bandit?” His sister’s voice woke him from his deep thoughts. “Breakfast! What do you want? I have the ingredients to make a breakfast croissant, your favourite, if you like.”
“Uh – what? Breakfast? Croissant? Oh, yeah, yeah, sure,” Bandit stammered.
Charmy rolled her eyes and fished some eggs out of the fridge.
When Amy finally woke up after many hours of heavy sleep, got dressed and shuffled into the kitchen, she found her pets silent and concentrating on their breakfasts, Bandit flipping through the latest issue of the Neopian Times. She laughed and looked at her pets chewing carefully. But her laughter cut out abruptly.
“Oh... Today’s the first day of the Month of Eating!” she exclaimed.
“Or is it? APRIL FOOL’S!” yelled Sakura, bursting into fits of laughter.
“Ah, I forgot! Today is the day of the transfer!” she screeched.
“Amy, calm down,” said Bandit after just having swallowed a chunk of croissant and bacon. “You’re completely prepared.”
“Deep breaths,” added Charmy, not looking up from her plate.
But inside her head Charmy was angry. How could Amy have possibly forgotten something she had been dreaming about for years?
Within less than an hour, after the breakfast plates were piled in the sink and the family had scattered about the living room doing various things, the doorbell rang, accompanied by Amy letting out a scream of both excitement and nerves. She ran to open the front door. Sakura, Bandit and Charmy looked up and exchanged nervous glances. They stayed in their seats but looked expectantly and anxiously towards the living room doorway. They heard a gruff, harsh voice alongside Amy’s.
“Yes, thank you, Dr. Death,” they heard her stammer.
“Dr. Death!” Sakura squeaked, and she ran to her brother and clutched his arm.
Bandit comforted his little sister. Sakura liked to be brave, boisterous and outgoing and was self-described as ‘fearless’. But in truth, Dr. Death had terrified her since her first and last fleeting visit to the Pound. More muffled voices. Then Charmy noticed a disturbed-looking Techo in a long white coat storm up the street outside and heard the front door click shut once more. She leapt up from the sofa, discarding her NeoCash Mall catalogue, and beckoned for her siblings to follow as she crept out the room into the hallway. Once out, the three of them stopped and stared. Amy stood by the doorway, grinning. Behind her they saw snatches of bright-coloured fur.
“Guys,” Amy said, beginning to step away. “This is your new brother! His name is Zondala!”
Their faces expressionless, Sakura, Bandit and Charmy stood side-by-side and stared down at their brand new adopted brother. He was a rather tall, rainbow-coloured Gelert. He towered above his new sisters, dwarfing not just Sakura but Charmy – who was older than him – but coming just short of Bandit.
Instead of trying to make friends or quaking in fear upon meeting his new siblings, Zondala stood strong and stared them straight in the face. His paws were as large and fat as Bandit’s and his incredibly long and stringy Gelert ears and tail swirled around him. His fur was short, spare some tufts on his elbows, and stripy in all beautiful shades of the rainbow. But despite his fun, friendly, colourful appearance there seemed to be a darker side to Zondala, a hidden past. The hall fell silent. Only the ticking from the sliced bread wall clock in the living room could be heard. Amy looked nervously from Zondala to her other three pets, willing one of them to say something friendly. Nothing happened... So in desperation she stepped in.
“Uh, why don’t you guys show Zondala to the living room while I fix up a snack?” she asked. “Zondala, what kinds of food do you like? I never asked your owner...”
Zondala paused for a long time. “I’m not hungry,” he said finally.
Amy paused. “Oh, OK... I’ll go and... make some coffee for the rest of us, then. You want a drink?”
“No,” said Zondala, turning to stare at his siblings. “No thank you.”
Amy hovered, then dashed up the hallway towards the living room, perhaps desperate to escape the awkwardness. Her pets hung in the living room, Zondala standing up against Sakura, Charmy and Bandit. Opposing each other in a three-on-one staring contest. Never before had they been so apprehensive about a new pet arriving in the household. Charmy – being a manners freak – willed the Gelert to be polite and back down, just be friendly. But it didn’t happen. So they stayed on alert.
“Would you like to go through to the living room?” It seemed like a polite enough thing to come from Charmy, but she said it very defensively.
Zondala cocked his head cheekily. “I don’t know where it is.”
“Follow us, then,” Charmy replied.
But nobody moved. They stayed rooted to the fuzzworn carpet. Charmy folded her arms. And then, defeated but not showing it, Bandit turned on his heel and walked towards the living room.
“In here.” Bandit stood tall by the living room doorway, and slowly extended a paw to show Zondala in.
The Gelert puppy swaggered into the living room, closely followed by his new sisters. He looked around for a place to sit, and his silent question was answered when Bandit staked his claim on his favourite armchair, Sakura settled into her usual spot on the sofa under the window, and Charmy occupied the sofa opposite. Zondala was left with two options on places to sit – so he chose to sit beside who seemed right now to be the lesser of two evils, Sakura. Sure enough, his choice proved worthwhile. Sakura let out one of her bored, heavy sighs and pushed herself up on the sofa. Her elder sisters glowered at her as she gathered herself to speak. Sakura was usually hyper and boisterous, liked to be sarcastic and could sometimes be a tad mean. But now she was actually putting aside her differences from someone else.
“Look, guys... Zondala’s new and we should make him feel... like... uh...”
Charmy sat up straight and crossed her arms tighter across her chest. Bandit sighed.
“I think what you’re trying to say is, both parties have been a little apprehensive and we should put aside our differences and... welcome our new brother to the family.”
Sakura blinked her huge hazel eyes. “OK, I have no idea what you just said but I’m going to go with it.”
Zondala looked from Sakura to Bandit, his face completely expressionless. He hadn’t smiled since his arrival and his face still didn’t change. The three turned to Charmy. She glanced at them all and sighed.
“I’ve been irrational.” She giggled. “Zondala, you have every right to live here.”
When Amy pottered through from the kitchen, haphazardly struggling with an ice tea for Charmy, a hot coffee for Bandit and a can of Neocola for Sakura, she found what she never would have expected. Her pets, including Zondala and even Charmy who hated group activities, were crushed kneeling around the glass coffee table in the centre of the room. Before them was a NeoCheckers board. Sakura and Zondala were in mid-game, as the red and blue counters were strewn across the checkered board.
“Ha!” Zondala grinned, shifting a Shoyru-shaped counter and grinning, his voice deep. “I claim another of your counters!”
He made his counter hop over one of Sakura’s and pulled it off the board.
“No way, no fair!” Sakura, who hated losing, yelped.
“‘Course it’s fair, Sakura!” Charmy sighed.
Bandit was flipping through a book, off guard. “Looks like you’re being beaten, Sakura.”
Charmy swung an arm around Zondala, and they laughed. Amy stood at the door, gob smacked, her mouth hanging open. She staggered and split a drop of coffee on the carpet, hissing, she quickly steadied herself. Her pets looked up.
“Finally, drinks!” Sakura yelled, leaping up and snatching her Neocola.
More slowly Bandit and Charmy took their mugs from Amy, smiling and thanking her. Amy looked to her new Gelert.
“Sure you don’t want anything?” she asked, eyeing the split coffee seeping into her living room carpet.
“I have everything I’d ever need.” And with that Zondala smiled a wobbly grin. His first smile since he’d arrived.
Charmy had been terrified this new brother of hers would drive her and her family apart. But in the meantime, it seemed like he had brought them even closer together...