A Gift of Courage
Pale, blue light was shining through the window in Maemocala's room. The sun was just beginning to rise in Faerieland, and the first hints of dawn danced on a sleepy Kougra's eyelids. She rolled out of bed, dug her claws into her grey, plush carpet and stretched her back before turning towards her bedroom door. It was time to get up, and Maemo couldn't wait for the day ahead of her.
Maemo padded into the kitchen to find her Baby Vampire, Vraiment, on the table hovering over a cup of black coffee roughly one-third of his size. He leaned over and tilted the cup to take a sip, a look of absolute bliss on his pale features.
"You know what I want for Christmas?" she asked as she plopped down at the table.
"I can only presume you'd like to even out your crooked smile by regaining your two front teeth," he responded sardonically.
"My crooked smile? What? I have my front teeth, silly. See?" Maemo bared her teeth.
"Er, yes. My mistake, of course." The petpet coughed and focused his attention on his cup.
Maemo puffed out her silver chest and put a dainty paw to it, "As I was saying, what I'd really like for Christmas is—"
The Baby Vampire interrupted his master upon hearing a key inserted into the kitchen door's lock. "Hold just a moment, dear master. I do believe I hear our housemate coming home." The petpet jumped from the table to the floor and went off to greet their returning friend without a backwards glance.
"...a new petpet," Maemo muttered to herself as she withdrew from the table to follow Vraiment.
"I wish you guys had been there," Kyla said breathlessly. She closed the door quickly behind her, and wiped an errant, drippy string of whipped-cream-colored fur from her forehead. Her skin looked positively liquid; her eyeliner was smeared in shaky rivulets across her chocolate face.
Vrai took in her unkempt, sweaty, and exhausted form, and then proceeded to look at his own immaculately groomed form. "Yes, that seems like exactly the sort of activity I would enjoy," he chimed with a sneer.
"It's great that you're home, Kyla! We've just been having our morning coffee. Do you want some?" Maemo was always glad to see her friend again, even if her petpet used her as an excuse to run away from conversations.
"Sounds tasty, but I'm really tired," she said. "I've been up since dusk, and the show was really exhausting to watch." Kyla saw the look of disappointment on the Kougra's face and smiled a little. "There'll be plenty of time for chat tomorrow, Maemo."
"But you have to tell us something! You always just run to bed instead of telling us about your nights!"
"Oh, all right," Kyla conceded. A dreamy look took over her face as she contemplated her evening. "Of course Twisted Roses were amazing, and the fans were great, too. I met some pets afterwards and we chatted on the grounds for hours. A couple of them are starting up a band, but..." Kyla hesitated. "Well, I don't know, I just admire their courage. I wish I could do that sort of thing, you know?" Her voice dampened and she bit her lip at that last remark.
"Well," Maemo replied, her eyes sparkling, "there are always ways to build up courage..."
"Maybe," Kyla replied, cutting her housemate short with a quick word. "For other neopets." She tapped the doorframe anxiously with a nail, already disliking the path the conversation had taken. "But I'm really, really tired. I'd love to stay up longer, but I can't keep my eyes open. I'm heading off to bed. See you guys later." The Xweetok waved and headed off to her room while Maemo and Vrai exchanged glances.
"Am I right in supposing that you, my brilliant owner, also saw that ad in the Neopian Times and thought of our timid friend?" Vrai coughed. "Or was I the only being in this house observant and thoughtful enough to make the connection between that little ad and our housemate's oft-stated aspirations?"
Maemo rolled her eyes. "You're the schemer, not me." She paused and eventually decided to ask a question. "So, uh, what ad are you talking about?"
Vrai shook his head. "Oh, for an owner as intelligent as myself." He walked off into the kitchen, retrieved the Neopian Times, and pointed to a rather large ad in the middle of the classified section.
"That's brilliant!" Maemo jumped excitedly and would have gone on if Vraiment hadn't held a tiny, dainty finger to her lips.
"Hush, dear neopet," he said. "Our friend certainly doesn't want to be disturbed by our chatter. Besides, I know just the way to expose her to my so-called brilliant plan. Wait here." Vraiment wandered off, rubbing his hands together and taking the newest edition of the Neopian Times with him.
"Who's responsible for this?!" Kyla had burst from the next room, her normally fashionable whipped-cream locks in complete disarray. She daintily held a scrap of newspaper from her paw, and proceeded to dangle said scrap irritably in front of Maemo and Vrai.
Vrai, completely unperturbed, continued leaning into the book he was reading. A tiny finger traced words on the page as his other hand supported him on the delicate pages. The book was almost twice his size and quite old – he couldn't risk failing to pay attention to it simply for the sake of some irritable Xweetok.
Maemo was a bit more concerned, but also indisposed. The Kougra had been finger-painting on a giant piece of white paper spread on the living room floor. Buckets of finger paints were spread about, and the silver digits of her paws were variously covered in red, blue, and turquoise paint.
"Responsible for what?" Maemo asked, turning her painted claws up in innocent bewilderment. A globule of red paint fell from her thickly-coated paw as she waited for a response. "Bother," she mumbled, "That's not where I would've liked that paint..."
"For what, you ask?" Kyla's voice rose into a shrill shriek as she raced towards the oblivious Kougra. "For this!" She dangled the classified ad in front of Maemo's bewildered eyes, shaking it back and forth for emphasis as she waited angrily for a response.
Maemo's eyes skimmed over the piece of paper. She read quickly.
Christmas caroling troupe seeking new, talented... members!... To audition, please go to... Inexperienced vocalists welcome (for lower hourly rates)!
Finally Maemo answered her indignantly grunting friend. "It looks like Holiday Singers Incorporated is the one responsible." She blinked her silver eyes, wondering why Kyla was upset by a carefully-snipped classified ad that, Maemo thought, she ought to have liked seeing.
"No, no, I can read! I was asking who was responsible for taping this on my bathroom mirror! And, well." Kyla sighed in frustration, told Maemo to follow her, and irreverently plucked Vraiment from on top of his book. The trio – with only minor protestation from the Baby Vampire – tromped into Kyla's private bathroom and took a look at her bathroom mirror.
Beneath a rectangular outline of sticky tape on Kyla's mirror, there were four scrawled words in blocky, sloppy magenta letters. "THEY'RE WAITING FOR YOU."
"That!" Kyla squealed. "Someone stole my lipstick and wrote that on my mirror!"
Vraiment shrugged his shoulders in Kyla's tight grip, and finally put in a word about the whole affair, "Well, I wanted to write, 'They're waiting for you to audition for their fine, travelling band of singing excellence,' but I ran out of room."
"Ughhh!" Kyla tossed the irritating petpet to his master's paint-covered paws in frustration, and stomped out of the room. Maemo and Vrai slowly followed, the Baby Vampire plucking distastefully as his freshly paint-smeared black cloak as the duo followed behind their irate friend.
Upon their arrival in the living room, Kyla plopped down on their overstuffed couch and sighed. She rubbed her head with her dainty palms before looking up at her friends again. "Why do you guys do this to me? You know I don't like it."
Maemo shifted her shoulders guiltily. "I don't think anyone likes to be pushed around, but Vrai—"
"No, stop," Vrai interjected with a sneer. "Kyla, my sweet Xweetok, I have to admit something straight away." He toddled over to the couch and climbed up to hold Kyla's paw. "If we had let this ad slip by our attentions without bringing it to yours, we would have been doing you a grave disservice. You are a singer, and a fine one at that. What you lack is confidence, and the only way anyone ever builds that is by going out and doing the things they're afraid of. You're afraid of singing in public and being judged lacking. Suppose you go to this company's open call audition, and they think you're fantastic – what then?"
The Xweetok tilted her head and allowed a small, dreamy smile to form on her lips. "Well, that would be amazing, but—"
"No." Vrai held a tiny finger to her lips. "No buts. You're going, and that's final." Vraiment crawled off the couch and sauntered away. "Besides," he said, waving a hand in the air as he left the room, "If you don't, then I'll never stop bothering you about it."
"Vrai's right, Kyla," Maemo offered apologetically after he had left.
"I know he is," sighed the Xweetok. "If nothing else, he's certainly right about being able to pester and annoy me forever if I don't go."
"So you'll go?" Maemo allowed her tail to wave slowly in anticipatory excitement.
"I'll go," Kyla granted, "But only so that you guys'll stop bugging me about this stuff."
But Maemo wasn't listening. She was too busy doing an insanely dorky-looking, celebratory jig.
"We've arrived!" Maemo exclaimed, her tail wagging as she pushed open a large metal door. She pranced inside eagerly while her petpet and hesitant Xweetok friend followed discreetly.
They walked into a low-ceilinged room with unfinished wooden beams forming the bulk of the walls and ceiling. Pictures hung here and there, as did drab, dingy swathes of fabric. A blue Gnorbu sat behind a small, dinged table in the center of the room. She waved them over as they entered.
"If you're here for the auditions, you can sign up with me. If you're just here to observe, the door to the seating area is that way." She pointed to her left.
Vraiment walked off on his own and pushed through the flimsy wooden door that led to the seating area. Maemo followed her errant petpet, and, very quietly, Kyla followed as well. They reached the seating area before Vrai turned to Kyla and raised a sardonic eyebrow.
"My dear Kyla," Vrai began, "could you please explain to me why we came here if you had no intention of actually auditioning?"
"I had every intention of auditioning!" Kyla hissed back, "I'm just... not sure I want to do it anymore. That's all." She sank down into her seat, crossing her tiny arms in front of her chest and burrowing into her whipped-cream ruff.
"Oh, come on!" Maemo rolled her eyes and let out a frustrated groan. "You're auditioning. We didn't come here for nothing! What are you so afraid of? We're practically the only ones here!"
"I'm not scared. I just... don't want to do it anymore."
Maemo snapped her teeth together. "Yeah, sure. You're not afraid. You think singing is for sissies now?"
"Christmas singing, yes," Kyla persisted stubbornly.
"Fine," Maemo said, "then I'm a sissy." Maemo stomped off backstage, leaving her petpet and friend staring at each other.
"She's not—" Kyla started.
"Oh, she most certainly is. You clearly underestimate the friends you brought with you." Vraiment paused. "And this really won't be pleasant for any of us, so you'd better go and stop her." Vrai pulled out a pocket-sized book from his cloak (it was roughly half his size) and began reading in his seat.
"Maemo!" Kyla raced after the Kougra, flailing her hands wildly in the air. "Maemo," she sighed when she caught up with her silver friend. "You can't sign up. I've heard you sing. It's terrible. Please tell me you're not going to—"
"Too late." Maemo grinned and wagged her tail in self-satisfaction. "I'm going up there, and I'm going to sing." She leaned over and whispered in Kyla's ear, "But if you want to sound like the best singer in the world, following up my act's an easy way to go about it. You could hit half of the wrong notes, and they'd still think you were a singing maestro." She backed away, then nodded indiscreetly to the sign-up table while wiggling her eyebrows.
"Are you interested in trying out too?" the Gnorbu at the table asked expectantly.
"Er, yes," Kyla said awkwardly. "I guess I am." She walked over to the desk and penned her name carefully below Maemocala's. While they walked back to the seating area, she passed an irate whisper to her impetuous friend, "You had better be right about making me look good. If this winds up humiliating me..."
Maemo shrugged happily, sat down next to her petpet, and waited to be called on stage.
"That was—" Kyla began, hesitant to say anything about her friend's performance.
"Terrible, I'm fully aware," Vraiment finished for her. "She is my master, after all. I'm not entirely unacquainted with her singing voice."
"I remembered she was bad," Kyla said, still in shock, "but I don't think she managed to hit a single note. And..."
Vrai looked at Kyla's face, amused by her bewilderment.
"And I think she was managing to sing through her nose while erratically pinching her vocal chords. I... How can you even do that?"
"Sheer talent, I assure you. My master puts absolutely no time or effort into her singing voice, which means that nothing else could be to blame."
Kyla shook her head and smiled before looking up at the equally-stunned judges at the front of the room. They had finally composed themselves well enough to comment on Maemo's performance and dismiss her from the stage.
"We appreciate your performance, Miss Maemocala. We'll be certain to contact you if we have a spot available for someone of your talents. Rest assured that we have your address." The speckled Jetsam judge coughed and waved a fin. "You may leave the stage." He jotted a few notes on his pad before making his next announcement. "Miss Kyla C may take the stage."
"You're up," Maemo said with a grin as she sat down by her friend.
"Yeah. I sure am," Kyla replied as she walked slowly to the stage.
Though her friend's performance had initially made her less afraid of the possibility of being the worst singer in the room, her ascent to the stage was bringing on new fears. What if she was suddenly as bad as Maemo? What if the judges were so disenchanted with the entire process of finding group members after seeing her friend that they wouldn't even listen? What if she tripped, or choked on her words, or...
And suddenly, she was there. And she opened her mouth. And she sang.
Her performance wasn't perfect. She overshot and undershot a note or two, forcing her to slide her notes up or down to the proper tones. The level of tremolo her voice produced varied with accidental nuances of nerves and poor practice habits. Her volume wavered a few times as she strained for notes that weren't quite within her range. But overall her performance was quite pleasing, if a bit green, and it brought legitimate smiles of relief and happiness to the faces of the speckled Jetsam and his Christmas Ixi friend.
"That was lovely, Kyla," the Jetsam said when she finished. "We'll certainly get in touch with you, and I really must thank you for coming. We look forward to working with you over the holidays." He stood up to shake her hand as she walked off-stage, smiling with appreciation before letting her return to her friends.
When she sat down--relieved, exhausted, and a little bit excited--Maemo elbowed her in the ribs. "That wasn't bad at all, was it, little scaredy-Xwee?"
"Nah," Kyla said, blushing as she admitted the truth. "It really wasn't."
The three sat for some time, watching other singers of varying skill levels and enthusiasm walk on stage, offer their voices, and walk down once again.
"Thank you," Kyla said at last. "Both of you. It seems like such a little thing, but I couldn't have done it without you."
"Aw, don't worry about it," Maemo replied with a nudge. "That's what friends are for."