If the Nickname Fits
Sydney had earned the nickname "Basher" at an early age. The Kyrii was always in a hurry, always trying to get somewhere. She had never particularly minded the epithet; its implication that she was tough could only help her reputation. As she had never had any trouble living up to this reputation, there was no harm done either.
Her parents, however, thought the nickname distasteful. To be fair, Sydney's parents found most things about her distasteful.
"How can a daughter of mine look like such an urchin?" her father asked.
Her mother chimed in, "We buy you these nice clothes so that you won't look like such a hooligan, so that one day you can get a respectable job!"
Sydney's parents liked to play off one another. They never seemed to notice that she did not respond. She tried to listen, but sometimes her attention wandered.
"Are you even listening to us?" her father demanded.
"She has probably been brawling again," her mother accused. She directed the statement at Sydney's father, but continued to yell in Sydney's direction.
At this, Sydney almost spoke up. It was true; she had been "brawling" again. That was her parents' term for her favorite hobby: training. She opened her mouth slightly as though she was going to respond. As she did this, her parents turned to each other, deciding simultaneously to exclude her from the conversation. Sydney allowed herself the smallest of sighs and decided to go up to her room. It was not as though her parents hated her; they just did not know how to talk to her.
Up in her room, Sydney looked in the mirror. She could only imagine what her parents would say when the bruise she felt forming around her eye began to show. She winced slightly as she gingerly pressed the area. She sighed again.
It had not been her master's fault. It was her fault for not listening, for not dodging properly. She was not angry at him, but she regretted that it had happened, knowing what the consequences would be.
Still, she would continue training. Her dream was to one day be tough enough to compete in the Battledome with Neopia's toughest challengers. It was her belief that one day her parents would see the results of her hard work, would understand what she was trying to accomplish, and would be happy for her.
She had seen her master at the Central Arena, living the life she so craved. The grace with which he moved was enviable. From that moment on, she had not rested until she had convinced him to train her. She thought her master would laugh when she told him her nickname.
"'Basher'? You like this nickname? I like the perseverance it implies and that you possess, but 'Basher' also implies that you will stop at nothing. This is not an attitude which I can tolerate in a student."
Sydney was speechless. She did not understand why her master would say this.
In response to the confusion evident on her face, he continued, "There are times when it is best to move around obstacles, rather than crush them. Not every chance for a fight should be exploited. If you demolish everything in your path, you will find yourself very lonely one day."
Sydney still did not fully understand what her master meant. She understood that she should not fight every person she came across, but she sensed that he meant more than just fighting in the literal sense. She also found she felt hurt that her master had rejected the nickname she had grown fond of over the years. Sydney never pressed him about it after that day, but she continued trying to puzzle out the meaning on her own.
"Hey! Wait! Give that back, please! It is not finished!"
Sydney looked up at the exclamation. She had left early the next morning to get to training before her parents were awake to question her. She saw a Lenny trying in vain to reach something being held away from him by another Lenny who was being encouraged by the raucous laughter of his friends.
"Maybe you should let us read it first, Jester. I'm sure our constructive criticism will help a lot! You should trust in my literary skills, man." With that, the bully gestured to his friends to hold "Jester" back as he examined the item he was holding. Sydney could finally see that it was a thick notebook.
"A Guide to Neopian Gnomes. Aw, that's such a boring title, Jester. Jazz it up a little, how about 'How to Be Lame like Me: Read a Boring Book I Wrote Because I Have No Friends'?" The bully reached into his pocket and withdrew a pen. By this time 'Jester' had stopped struggling.
The look on his face and the fact that this group was blocking the sidewalk strengthened Sydney's resolve. As she approached, she cleared her throat. "I'm pretty sure you spelled 'Friends' wrong."
The bully looked up from his graffiti. Sydney could not see what he was writing; she had only said it to get his attention. He glared at her for a beat or two before processing that she had just made that up.
"Hey! Who asked you? I'm only trying to help out a F-R-I-E-N-D." He spelled the word carefully, clearly determined not to prove her right after the fact. 'Jester' had looked up when she spoke. He looked just as confused as the gang surrounding him.
"Maybe I would have let it go if you were not taking up the entire sidewalk with your inferiority complex. Just let him go and give the book back. If it really is lame, don't read it. Just move on." Sydney made certain to keep eye contact the entire time she was speaking and to keep a firm stance.
Her efforts at intimidation seemed to be working as the bully hesitated before throwing the book in the mud with a look of deep disgust and disappointment. "Whatever. I can't hit a girl anyway. Let him loose, guys. We'll just take the money he gave us and go buy a coffee. Thanks, Jester!!" he called, mockingly, as they walked away.
The bully had pushed in to Sydney's shoulder as he walked past. She watched him walk away, but did not follow. When she turned around, she found the other Lenny picking up the discarded notebook and cleaning the mud off with his T-shirt, any regard for cleanliness clearly gone in the face of such a tragedy.
Sydney hesitated, not sure if she should just walk away or try to talk to him. In the end, she decided to just keep walking. She was already late for training.
The next day, Sydney was surprised to see that same Lenny sitting on her front doorstep, scribbling away madly into his notebook. She stopped and stood in front of him for a full minute before she cleared her throat.
He looked up, blinking his eyes a few times to focus on something further away than his nose. Realizing who it was, he stood up hastily.
"Jack," was what he offered as a greeting.
"Sydney," she replied, "but I thought your name was 'Jester'."
"Oh, well, that's been my nickname since I was a kid. For a long time I thought it was because the other kids thought I was funny."
Sydney waited for a moment to see if he would offer some other explanation for the nickname, but it was apparently too personal. "Well, people call me Basher."
Jack's eyes widened. "I guess that's how you got that black eye, huh?"
"Sort of. But the nickname really came from the fact that I don't ever stop."
Jack looked as confused by this as Sydney had felt about his nickname. "I guess nicknames often carry a double meaning," he said, thoughtfully, "'Jester', it seems, was initially intended to compare me with... well, with a fool." He paused. "They meant it to wound my pride, you see."
"Oh. That makes sense, though in a cruel way," Sydney replied, musing over his story.
Her reverie was interrupted as Jack said, "I confess, I am a bit confused by your name; you say you never stop, but you stopped yesterday. I thought you were going to hit that guy."
"If he had forced me into a fight, I would have fought him, but my master says to avoid conflict unless absolutely necessary. I never thought he was going to make me fight though. He was just having a laugh with you."
Jack looked hurt for a moment. Sydney pursed her lips. "You may have found I'm not as bad as I look, but that does not mean that I am as good as that implies."
He tilted his head to the side as he considered this. "I guess so... and I suppose he was enjoying it... even if I was not... That still does not make his actions acceptable! You know, he targeted me because I happened to be sitting on 'his' bench! Simply because he considered me 'in his way'! I mean, really! It's as though he never stopped to consider that quite possibly he was in my way."
Sydney's eyes widened as she suddenly understood what her master had been trying to explain to her. Jack, who had been glaring at the memory of the previous morning, did not notice her reaction and finished his thought. "I am just relieved he did not ruin my research."
Sydney was going to ask him about his research, specifically why he had chosen gnomes as his subject, when the front door to her house interrupted by opening.
"There you are!" her mother exclaimed, completely ignoring the flashy presence of a Rainbow Lenny on her stoop, glowering at her daughter.
Sydney's father appeared in the doorway as well. "Look at the state of your clothes!"
"She has been brawling again, no doubt," her mother stated with certainty and disdain.
"Up to no good as usual," her father agreed.
"Hey!" Jack exclaimed. Sydney's parents were so startled that they actually took the time to look down at him. "I'll have you know that your daughter stood up for me yesterday. I came by your house to thank her!"
"Listen, you, my daughter should not be fighting anyone just to save your hide!" her father yelled.
Jack stepped back, tripping on the edge of the step. As he caught himself on the railing, Sydney's mother chimed in, "Fighting is never acceptable! Get inside, right now."
With that, Sydney's parents turned and went inside before Jack could do more than open his mouth to correct their mistaken impression. He turned to Sydney, his mouth still slightly open.
Sydney shrugged, used to it by now. "Thanks for trying anyway."
As she walked slowly up the steps, she heard Jack pick up his notebook. He spoke just as she put her hand on the door knob. "Do you walk that same way every Tuesday?"
Sydney turned. "Most Tuesdays. Why?"
Jack smiled and said, "Well, I would like to try to talk to you properly without interruption. You have a different perspective than any I have encountered before."
"Oh. I walk that way because I'm on my way to training," Sydney said. Jack nodded in response, smiling sadly. She added quickly, "I finish around lunch time. Usually I go to the shop a few blocks over from where I saw you and pick up a sandwich. I could see you there?"
Jack's face lit up. "Absolutely!"
Sydney felt her own smile brighten in response. "Great! Then you can tell me all I never knew about gnomes."