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Who Needs A Family?: Part One

by miriel


I groaned and rolled out from under my tattered blanket as the klaxon signalled the start of another day in the Pound. I heard the pets in the cages next to mine mumbling dejectedly. I understood how they felt although I’d been in and out of the Pound so often that I’d long ago sunk into a state of complete apathy about my situation.

     Who needs a family? I thought to myself as I checked my food dish to find half an apple core and a third of an omelette so old I could probably bounce it off the wall. Yum. Still, I was starving, so I gulped the omelette down without even tasting it and sat in the corner of my cage as I gnawed on the apple core.

     The klaxon buzzed again to signal the opening of the Pound to prospective adopters. I heard a lot of paws scrambling as the pets who hadn’t been here long hurried to peer out of their cage doors at the owners.

     I didn’t bother. I was a plain green Usul with average stats and a bad name; the only people who were interested in adopting me were clueless newbies who didn’t know better.

     It had happened more times than I cared to remember; they came in, saw me, said “oh, how cute!”, paid my adoption fee and dragged me to their Neohome. Two or three weeks later they had seriously wised up and realised that while I may be cute, a green Usul named Molly_43629055 wasn’t exactly the greatest pet around and promptly bought me back to the Pound.

     I had long since given up expecting them to keep me and therefore forsaken any hope of a family, eventually deciding that I was better off without one. I’d managed to escape the Pound once, thinking that I’d rather fend for myself. Turns out I really wouldn’t. Life in Neopia without an owner is hard. I was actually relieved when I was picked up and bought back here.

     There was a murmur of excitement as the first of the days’ adopters entered the viewing area. They wandered up and down the rows, some faster than others. It’s always easy to spot ‘pound surfers’. They practically ran up and down the rows of pets, barely glancing into each cage and occasionally coming to a screeching halt with a shout of glee. They would then yank the pet from its cage before shouldering through the crowd to the front desk at a speed that left people gaping after them.

     I watched a tall, willowy girl with long brown hair make her way slowly down my row, peering into each cage and reading the pet descriptions carefully. She was accompanied by a pale yellow Zafara dressed in a blue gown and pointy hat. I can’t say I really cared for the hat but the dress was beautiful.

     I guessed she was looking for a well-named pet with potential to train. I slumped against the back wall of my cage, settling in for another day of utter dullness.

     The girl drew nearer and nearer to my cage, I waited patiently for her to pass by. Before she reached me, though, the Zafara peeked in. She could barely see over the lip at the bottom of my cage (I was in one of the upper cages), but she smiled shyly when I met her eyes.

     I narrowed my eyes. Why was she smiling at me? Did she think it was funny I was in here? She opened her mouth to speak but didn’t get a chance to before her owner joined her and looked in at me.

     The girl looked at me for a moment before smiling softly and glancing at my stats posted outside my cage. I sighed. She’ll take one look at my name and stats and move on, I thought to myself, already feeling resigned.

     “Molly? Right?” the girl said softly, looking back at me. I nodded, thinking furiously. Why was she talking to me? “How long have you been here?”

     I thought for a moment, “I’ve been in and out for the last seven years,” I replied, shrugging.

     The girl nodded slightly, but her Zafara looked horrified. The girl opened her mouth to speak again, but the Zafara cut in, “What do you mean you’ve been in and out?”

     I explained that newbies adopted me from time to time, only to abandon me when they realised that they wanted better pets. That horrified look was back on the Zafara’s face by the time I’d finished. The owner was nodding like she’d suspected this was the case.

     The Zafara didn’t say anything but turned to her owner with beseeching eyes. Her owner looked back at her and nodded once. Apparently they’d agreed on something, as the Zafara trotted off towards the doors.

     The owner looked back at me and smiled again. Okay, this was getting a little weird. I couldn’t remember anyone smiling at me this much unless they were planning some really obnoxious prank.

     The girl opened her mouth to speak again, but the Zafara was back with Rose bustling up behind her.

     “So you’ve made your selection?” Rose asked the girl, who nodded in answer.

     Selection? Was she talking about me?! Rose apparently shared my sense of incredulity as she glanced into my cage and caught sight of me.

     “You’re sure you want this Usul?” Rose asked, disbelief colouring her voice.

     The Zafara bristled at her tone. “Why wouldn’t we? What’s wrong with her?” she said angrily, glaring at the kind Uni. Rose seemed slightly shocked but I could see the girl was fighting hard not to laugh.

     “Nothing at all,” Rose replied. “It’s just... she’s just... you seem.... that’s... um... that’s great!”

     Now I was pressing my own lips together to contain my giggles, I’d never seen Rose this flustered. The girl reached to open my cage and I could see the laughter still dancing in her eyes.

     The door swung open and the girl stepped back so I could hop down. I looked up at her, still trying to figure out why she was adopting me. Maybe she fosters poundees? I mused to myself. One of my previous owners had tried that until he got frustrated with the lack of change and dumped me back in the Pound. Worth a shot, I suppose, I thought to myself, just try not to get attached.

     I followed them to the front desk where the girl filled out the adoption forms and handed over the eighty-nine Neopoints that was my adoption fee.

     I trailed my new owner out of the doors with her Zafara following closely behind me.

     “Mom? Can we get some pizza before we go get the groceries?” the Zafara asked. My stomach rumbled at the thought. I hadn’t had fresh pizza in years.

     “Of course, Zee,” the girl said already striding off through the throngs of people in the Plaza. ’Zee’ followed her eagerly and I ran to keep up.

     We slowed as we approached the giant-pizza topped store and the girl opened the door, ushering us in ahead of her.

     “Okay, guys, what do you want?” the girl asked as she perused the menu herself.

     “I’ll have the Jelly Bean Pizza,” Zee said excitedly.

     Jelly Bean Pizza? That sounded really weird to me and the girl sniggered as she noticed my expression.

     “What’ll it be, Molly?” she asked in a kind voice.

     “Ummm, a Garden Fresh Pizza?” I couldn’t keep the question out of my tone but the girl just nodded and walked over to the counter to put our order in.

     Zee dragged me over to a booth where I perched on the edge of my seat feeling pretty uncomfortable.

     Suddenly Zee giggled. “We should probably have introduced ourselves, shouldn’t we? Sorry. We tend to get a bit carried away when there’s food involved! I’m Zeena237, Zee for short. Mom created me when she first arrived in Neopia.”

     I smiled politely. “I like your dress; did your owner buy it for you?” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. Dumb question! I scolded myself. Of course her owner bought it for her; where else would she get it?!

     “It come standard for a Royal Zafara,” she said, plucking at her sleeve.

     I gaped at her. Royal? She’s painted Royal? Why on Neopia did the girl adopt me if she could afford Royal Paint Brushes? The girl rejoined us then and I tried to rearrange my expression into something a little less gormless.

     The girl looked from me to Zee and back again. “What did I miss?”

     “Nothing. I was just introducing myself. Hint, hint,“ Zee replied with a significant look in my direction.

     “Oh, right. Duh! I’m Alexa, but I prefer Lex,” Lex said, looking at me apologetically. “I didn’t mean to be rude, but the pizza was calling to me.”

     “It’s fine,” I said quietly. “Well, I guess you know I’m Molly_43629055, Molly for short.”

     “Yeppers,” said Zee, bouncing in her seat. “We’re gonna be such great friends!”

     Until I’m abandoned again, I thought to myself, but tried to keep the scepticism off my face. Someone who could afford a Royal Paint Brush wouldn’t want a pet as dull as me around for long.

     I was saved from responding by the arrival of our pizza. I was practically drooling as mine was placed in front of me but had to pause to stare at the concoctions placed in front of Zee and Lex.

     Zee’s Jelly Bean Pizza looked odd to say the least, but I couldn’t even identify what Lex’s pizza was supposed to be. They caught me staring.

     “It’s a cheeseburger pizza,” Zee explained as Lex took a huge bite and closed her eyes in apparent bliss.

     Okay, that doesn’t sound quite as weird as Jelly Bean Pizza, although I haven’t got a clue about how you’d go about making a cheeseburger pizza, I thought to myself before asking, “And the Jelly Bean Pizza?”

     Zee grinned. “Yep. And no, it’s not as disgusting as it first sounds. The base is sweetened bread and the sauce is sugared something or other.”

     “So basically it’s a slice of pure hyperactivity,” Lex summed up as Zee nodded enthusiastically. I smiled at their banter and reached for my own pizza.

     “Wanna try?” Zee asked, pushing her plate towards me.

     Now I’ll admit I was curious, but didn’t think it’d go well with my Garden Fresh Pizza. I opened my mouth to say as much but Lex beat me to it.

     “Maybe she could have a bite after she’s finished her own. Otherwise it’ll just taste odd.”

     “Sure, I’ll save you some,” Zee said as she dug into her meal.

     I was going to protest, but Lex just shrugged and nodded, as if she was trying to tell me it wasn’t worth arguing. I decided she was probably right. I didn’t want to upset Zee, so I simply took a bite out of my own pizza as Lex started talking about the stores she needed to go to after we’d finished.

     I chewed quietly as I listened to them discuss dinner plans and the best place to find a green Gelert plushie.

     Zee did save me a piece of her pizza and she was right. It was delicious. Lex was right too; I could feel the sugar rush before I even finished.

     We sat for a couple of minutes after we’d finished. Lex and Zee were arguing about the route they were going to take.

     “What do you think?” Zee asked me suddenly. I looked at her, startled. She’s asking me? Shenkuu? SHENKUU? I have serious doubts we can get this lot to the end of the street! There is no way we’re going to be able to cart all this stuff to Shenkuu!

     Zee giggled again at my expression, but Lex wasn’t looking; she was still trying to see the end of the road. “Wait here, I’m going to find us some cabs,” she said as she trotted off.

     “I’m going to take a wild guess here and say this isn’t exactly unusual?” I asked Zee as I gestured to the mounds of items at our feet.

     Zee shrugged. “Living so far out of Neopia Central does have its drawbacks. Shenkuu is incredibly peaceful, but if we need something that isn’t produced locally, it can be a three hour round trip.”

     Three hours? Yikes! “Okay, so when you do come to Neopia Central you make sure to get everything you need in one go?”

     “Yup,” Zee replied patiently. “Otherwise we can waste a lot of time and effort just to keep the kitchen stocked.”

     “Fair enough,” I said. “Where did Lex go?”

     Zee looked at me a little oddly. “Down to the Eyrie Cab rank. She’ll bring a couple back here and they’ll take us home.” I nodded. Eyries Cabs sounded expensive but I didn’t comment.

     Lex arrived minutes later, trailed by two Eyries, as promised. “Okay, I’ll take half the stuff, you two take the rest of it.” She glanced at the Eyries. “Is that okay?”

     They nodded, looking like this wasn’t at all unusual. They gathered the things up into two piles and slung nets around them. Lex climbed onto the back of one Eyrie as Zee scrambled up onto the other. Once she was situated, she looked down at me and held out her paw. I looked at her apprehensively.

     “Come on, Molly,” she said encouragingly. “It’s fun.” I looked at the Eyrie, who smiled back at me cheerfully. I sighed and grabbed Zee’s paw, allowing myself to be hoisted up behind her. “Right, now just hold on tight to my waist.”

     I wrapped my arms around her and swallowed down my fear. Lex and Zee weren’t frightened; why should I be? The Eyries grabbed the handles on the nets and leapt into the air.

     After the initial shock had worn off, I have to admit that was fun! The Eyries swept steeply upwards until we were soaring high above Neopia Central. I presume Lex had already told them where we were going because they turned eastward immediately.

     “See? It’s fun, right?” Zee shouted back to me.

     “Yeah, until I forget to hold on!” I shouted back, only half joking.

     Zee laughed. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to let my new sister fall into the sea!”

     Sister? Did she just say sister? I didn’t know what to say to that so I just mumbled “okay,” and squeezed her a little tighter.

     Just over an hour later, our Eyrie suddenly swooped lower. I let out a surprised yelp and Zee giggled. I’d swear the Eyrie chuckled as well, but I can’t be sure.

     “We’re getting close to Shenkuu, he needs to get lower to get his bearings, otherwise we’ll end up in the Temple!” Zee explained. The Eyrie harrumphed, clearly not impressed with her summation of his sense of direction.

     I grinned and looked around. Shenkuu was breathtaking. The scenery was amazing. “You live here?” I asked, my awe evident in my voice.

     “Yeah,” Zee replied. “See? The trip is totally worth it.” I had to agree with her there. I wouldn’t care if it took me three hours to fetch a loaf of bread if I woke up here every morning. “Okay, hold on. We’re getting close.”

     The Eyrie dipped again and started counting under his breath. It took me a moment to realise he was looking at house numbers. With one final dizzying drop, we were on solid ground again.

     My head was still spinning as I slid off the Eyrie’s back and I staggered slightly. Behind me, Zee snickered.

     “At least she didn’t faceplant like you did after your first Eyrie ride,” Lex said, grinning from beside the other Eyrie. Both Eyries sniggered at this and Zee blushed. I refrained from laughing (just about) and looked around.

     The house we’d stopped outside of was huge but beautiful and the garden was simply exquisite. I knew my eyes were as big as saucers, but I couldn’t seem to pull my expression together.

     “You live here?” I asked weakly.

     “Yeah...” Zee said absently, trying to disentangle a kite from the carry-net. “Home sweet home.”

     I moved to help her but she waved me off, so I just unloaded some of the other things, placing them in the steadily growing pile by the front gate.

     “Haha!” Zee shouted, holding the liberated kite up victoriously. I grinned at her. Finally the nets were unloaded and the Eyries soared away once Lex had paid our fare.

     I started to gather up some of their purchases but Zee once again waved me off. “Leave it,” Zee said. “The others can help us with it in a minute.”

     Others? There are others? I hadn’t heard them talking about anyone else. Suddenly my stomach was twisting with nerves. I had gotten kind of comfortable around Lex and Zee but I hadn’t expected there to be anyone else.

     I followed them slowly up the path, too panicky to appreciate the beauty around me. I’d had too many bad experiences in being introduced to a new owner’s other pets. They tended to be standoffish at best when introduced to unremarkable me.

     I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders. I’d done this dozens of times before and it didn’t matter what they thought of me. Sooner or later Lex would realise I didn’t fit in with her family and return me to the Pound and I wouldn’t have to face them again.

     Zee looked at me curiously and I forced myself to smile. She had been a lot kinder than most of my temporary siblings had.

     She smiled back at me and leaned in to whisper, “Brace yourself. Things tend to get a little out of hand when Lex isn’t around.”

To be continued...

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