Aubrey's Avinroo Addiction
Aubrey stared at her Neovision's screen, intent only on the horrific scene in front of her. The brightly coloured blastoids were about to crash into the heart of Neopia, and try as she might, the Space Faerie wasn't going to be able to blast them all into deep space. Aubrey's eyes widened as she watched the end...
...Of her game, that is. Game Over. Score: 49000 flashed on the screen. The glowing Kougra groaned, throwing her controller aside with a huff. This was the fifth time today she had gotten close to AAA's score-so close, but not quite.
"Aubrey!" Her mother, a cloud Gnorbu, was calling her. "I need you to help me with some things!"
"Mom," Aubrey groaned. "Why can't Clara do it?" Clara was her older sister, a green Elephante they had adopted from the Pound. Her younger sister, Louise, was a baby Ogrin, and a more demanding creature Aubrey had never met. Aubrey didn't want to help with whatever it was her mother wanted; she wanted to finish her game and finally beat AAA!
"Because Clara is already out getting dinner while you were playing video games! Please, Aubrey," she said, softening as she poked her head into the room. "I just need you to run a few errands. It'll only take an hour, at the most."
Glancing at the screen once more, Aubrey reluctantly took the bag of Neopoints she need to deposit, the stroller holding Louise, and the list of errands for her to run.
"Just drop Louise at her friend's house down the street-you know the one. She's staying for the night. Thank you, sweetie!" she added as Aubrey pushed her sister out the door, not noticing the complaints streaming like a river from her mouth.
After dropping Louise off, Aubrey checked the first item on the list. She was supposed to go buy Louise a birthday present, then some cake her mom had forgotten to tell Clara to get, and then deposit the rest of the funds into the bank.
The Plushie Palace, thank goodness, already had the green fuzzle that Louise had been begging for them to buy her for weeks. She handed over the three hundred Neopoints she had haggled it down to, stuffed it in the bag, and headed for the bakery.
The bakery smelled delicious-like, well, a bakery. Aubrey could feel the drool dibbling down her chin as she gazed at the different biscuits, cookies, bread, and the cakes! Oh, the different cakes they had-at least twenty kinds of chocolate, lime, peppermint, vanilla, strawberry, blueberry deluxe, chokato-she sighed, glancing at the sweets she couldn't have, picking up a simple and, more importantly, cheap strawberry shortcake instead.
As she directed her paws towards the Bank, a rod hanging in a store window made her stop short. Upon closer inspection, she gasped, recognizing it as the AAA Host Jacket! During the last Daily Dare, Aubrey had completed every single challenge, team or otherwise, except for the one giving away the jacket. She had been home sick with blurry vision that day, and it was so bad that she couldn't even see the screen.
She looked longingly at the price tag. It's only seventy thousand Neopoints, and this bag as at least twice that... she thought, glancing between the cane and her bag of Neopoints. That cane had been her deepest desire for the longest time, and this was likely the cheapest she'd ever find it...
But even with profits rising, seventy thousand Neopoints was a stretch for her family. She stared at the shop window, pressing her face against the glass, undecided. The quickly setting sun made up her mind for her.
"Hey Mom." Aubrey announced herself without even bothering to knock. Clara, Louise, and her mother were all sitting, looking expectantly at her.
"What?" she asked when nobody said anything. She shifted from one paw to the other, wondering what she could possibly have done wrong that they could know about.
"Cake!" Louise screeched, smelling the strawberry shortcake in the bag. Aubrey gave a silent sigh of gratitude; Mom must have changed her mind and decided to have Louise's birthday party tonight.
Her mother smiled. "Aubrey, you look like you've seen a ghost! Sit down and get the cake out while Louise opens her first present!" Aubrey smiled weakly and sat down, setting the plastic container with the shortcake in it on the table. Louise reached for the first brightly wrapped gift and started gnawing on it. Her mother smiled patiently; Aubrey rolled her eyes.
"No, sweetie, like this." She extracted it from Louise's mouth and unwrapped it carefully, conserving it to use next year. Louise promptly switched her attention from the gift wrap she had been eyeing to the hard blocks that felt good on her developing teeth.
Aubrey ground her own teeth, wanting to get upstairs in a hurry. "Here ya go," she muttered, throwing the unwrapped fuzzle towards her. Louise gurgled happily and yanked some of the fur out-so much for long-lasting, practical toys. Louise also shoved the shortcake away from her, jumping out of her seat and running towards the stairs.
"What's wrong?" Clara asked, sitting up, looking concerned. "Are you sick, Aubrey?"
Aubrey muttered a short "maybe" as she stumbled up the stairs. The truth was, she did feel sick. And she didn't think it was blurry vision.
It was about a week after Louise's birthday. She had already lost half the blocks and ripped out a good portion of her fuzzle's fur, and she was presently sharing a room with Aubrey.
Aubrey didn't particularly enjoy this, but they had had to sell Louise's room to help pay the mortgage. Their humble abode on Market Square was costing them most of the profit from the shop and profits had, apparently, been down. Although income was usually steady, the deposit was lower than normal.
And Aubrey knew it was her fault, though she said nothing, choosing instead to act surprised and offer to work at the shop for free.
Aubrey grabbed some junk food out of the pantry, watching her mother sorting through the bills. She had had a rather frazzled look lately, and Aubrey was worried that maybe they wouldn't be able to pay all the bills. That maybe, just maybe, they'd end up living in a little box on the street, until one day she and her sisters were taken away to foster care because mom couldn't take care of them anymore...
She shook her head, expelling the dark thoughts, choosing instead to focus on the gummy Korbat tail she was munching on. She looked over her mom's shoulder, swallowing too much of the candy when she saw how large the debt was.
"It's so odd," her mother murmured, "I could've sworn that this deposit was at least double that..." Aubrey gulped, recognizing the date as Louise's birthday. Turning to stretch, she noticed Aubrey and pointed to the numbers. "Do you know anything about this, Aubrey?"
Aubrey stared at the debt, pretending to think and be confused. "No, nothing." Yeah, everything.
"Well..." She sighed, pulling at her ears. "I guess you wouldn't. Watch Louise, please." Aubrey did as she was told, heart breaking.
It was while hanging out with her best friend two weeks later when she finally realized she couldn't take it anymore.
"What's up, Aubrey? You look kinda pale." Ashlyn, a brown Wocky, asked her, putting the controller down.
"Nothing." Aubrey looked down shifting her feet. Ashlyn immediately saw through the lie.
"Ever since we got to see AAA, you've been acting really strange. And I mean stranger than usual, and you were pretty strange before you started acting strange. Did that make any sense?" She was referring to a visit to AAA's game room about a week ago they had raised enough money to attend.
"Yeah, nothing's wrong, really. Just kinda worried about the house, sad I only got to see AAA in person for one day..."
Ashlyn groaned in annoyance. "Girl, you are obsessed with that Annoyingly Arrogant Airhead. I think you need some fresh air to get him and games out of your head. C'mon," and, without a moments hesitation, she grabbed Aubrey by the paw and dragged her across town.
"What are we doing at my house?" Aubrey stared at her friend, completely confused. "I thought I was getting some fresh hair so I could, to quote you, get that 'Annoyingly Arrogant Airhead', and games, out of my head?"
Ashlyn threw the door open, nodding. "Yeah, but we need to get you out of that ridiculous outfit. Have you even washed that set of AAA's clothes since you bought them?" Aubrey choose not to answer that question and instead followed her into the closet. "We can put you in this sundress," she said, holding out a rather large, faded dress covered in once-bright yellow sunflowers.
"Why is my sister's dress in here?" She stared at in confusion. Ashlyn grimaced and threw it on the bed.
"Never mind, it's much too big. How about..." She continued muttering suggestions and immediately changing her mind, while Aubrey got more anxious for her to get away from the closet.
"Or maybe... Ow! Why do you have a large, wooden staff in your closet?!" Aubrey's stomach turned as her friend pulled out her AAA staff, rubbing a tender bump on her head where it had hit her. Her eyes widened in confusion. "Where did you get this, Aubrey? I thought you couldn't afford it?"
Aubrey stared at the ground. "I--we--couldn't. Mom doesn't... She doesn't know I bought it..." When she looked up, her friend's eyes had an all-knowing look.
"I see. So you saved you money, hmm? Or did you maybe steal some from your mother's bank deposit?" Aubrey looked confused, then was saddened.
"I didn't mean to... I mean, it just kind of happened!" She crossed her arms defensively, and Ashlyn threw the staff behind her. Aubrey closed her eyes and prepared for the rant.
"Aubrey. Do you have anything how serious this is? This, your--" she stuttered for a moment, searching for the right words. "Your addiction to gaming, to the Avinroos, is clouding your sense of right and wrong. You spent your family's money on a stupid article of clothing! You could've saved the money yourself, but no, you had to have it right then." Her voice was getting more high-pitched and climbing octaves as she got angrier.
"Spending so much time playing games and idolizing AAA has made you grow apart from your sisters, your mom, and even me. Don't even deny it, Aubrey, I've know you for too long for you to try that." She took in a sharp breath, attempting to calm down a little. "Aubrey, you need to tell you mom. You need to sell that staff, give her the money. And you need to get your life in order." And she stood up, shaking her head, and left the room, her point transmitted and hopefully received.
The harsh reality of Ashlyn's truth was a stunning punch to the gut for Aubrey. She stared blankly at the staff, now motionless where her friend had flung it, trying to sort and process the information thrown at her.
Ashlyn was right. She was so addicted to games her second home was the games room. AAA and everything involving him had become more important than her family. And her suggestion was right. Aubrey knew what she had to do.
"Mom?" It came out hoarse; her throat was dry from her anticipation of what was about to happen. She tried again, this time louder and more confident. "Mom, I need to talk to you." Her mother appeared in the doorway with a stack of bills a minute later.
"Yes, honey, what is it?" Aubrey almost burst into tears right then, and it showed. She brought her daughter into her arms and whispered, "What's wrong, what's wrong?" And Aubrey let it all out, how she had stolen the money to satisfy her selfish want; how she lied about it; how it took some harsh words from a friend to make her realize her faults.
It took a full half hour for Aubrey to empty her tears; it had been years since she cried like that. Sniffling, she waited for her mother to punish her. Her Gnorbu parent surprised her by taking the staff in one hand and her own in the other and leading the way to the store. She said nothing on their short journey until she had punched in some numbers for pricing the staff. Aubrey was still sniveling and her mother's continued silence only made it worse. It would be better, she thought, to just be yelled at.
"Why are you sniffling so much? I'm not mad at you!" Aubrey was dumbfounded.
She hugged her tightly again, almost a little too much so. "At first I was. But you made a bad choice and I can already tell you paid for it... Literally." She glanced at the staff, now shining on the window, just waiting to be bought. "The money I get from that will repay me. It's all going to be okay." Aubrey smiled a watery smile, and hand in hand, she walked with her mother home.
"You can do it." Ashlyn was at Aubrey's house, encouraging her to do something unheard of to her--donate some games.
"No, I can't!"
"Can't, or won't? C'mon, it's an old game you never play! This is the first step--and I know you can do it." Aubrey stared at the game, then at the Money Tree, then back at the game again. Squeezing her eyes shut, she threw it towards the roots of the tree. When she opened them, some young Neopian had already snatched it up. She sighed with relief.
"Wasn't that good? Now let's go get some more. We're cleaning house."
And as she thought, she realized it did feel good--better than the feeling she ever got from getting a high score. Her obsessive gaming days were done, over with.