Say Hello to My Little Friend
The eventide Aisha huffed lightly, frowning as she looked up at the spotted Gelert standing beside her. "Ugh! It's January! It's not natural that it's so hot! How is this possible?"
The spotted Gelert flicked his ears at the Aisha's high-pitched whine, looking bemusedly down at her. "We live in Neopia Central, Nisha. Sometimes the weather here can be a little unpredictable."
"Terror Mountain weather is predictable."
"Nisha, would you really like to go back there? Tell ya what, I'll buy us some ice cream!"
X smiled, very pleased with himself that he was able to cheer up one of his best friends. Thankfully, the ice cream shop was nearby. Unsurprisingly, there was a long line, but it moved quickly.
"One Aisha Ice Cream and one Flaming Tuskaninny Ice Cream," X said.
Nisha wrinkled her nose. "How can you eat that?"
"How can you not?"
The two friends sat at an outside table, licking at their ice cream. Love, X's spotted Puppyblew, lay at her owner's feet. They ate in silence for a moment until Nisha sighed heavily. Uh oh. What's wrong now, X thought in alarm.
Nisha had fixed her steady, dark blue gaze on Love, who looked calmly back. "I want a Petpet, X. No matter where you are, you always have a best friend with you. She doesn't judge you and she loves you no matter what you do."
X listened, finishing his ice cream in a few bites. He leaned forward to reach for one of Nisha's hands, giving it a light squeeze. At his movement, Love rose to her paws, brown eyes intent on her owner's face.
"OK, let's get you a Petpet. We can look now, if you want," X said, standing up from the table.
Nisha stood, too. They began the short walk to the Petpet shop.
"Do you have anything in mind?" X asked.
Nisha shook her head. "No, just that it has to be cute, cuddly, longhaired and painted eventide. I want my Petpet to match my color, like Love does you. Also, my Petpet's name is going to be Fluffy."
"I'm glad that you thought about this, but what if your Petpet is a boy?"
"Fluffy can be a boy's name!"
X didn't respond as he opened the door of the Petpet shop for Nisha. The Petpet shop was of modest size. Hot as the day was, X wasn't surprised that they were the only ones in the shop.
The green Usul shopkeeper approached. "Hello. How may I help you?"
The shopkeeper listened intently as Nisha explained why they were there. Then, the Usul frowned. Uh oh! A frown is never good!
"You have a very specific request, Nisha. At the moment, not many Petpets can be painted eventide. The only one that fits your description most closely is the Walking Carpet," the green Usul said, leading the way to a pen.
Three different colored Walking Carpets were inside. They roared and growled, roughhousing with each other.
Nisha shook her head. "No, that's not what I want."
"Then you will have to settle for a Petpet that isn't painted eventide," the green Usul said.
Nisha didn't look happy. She looked at X and he swallowed hard. He hated to see her unhappy!
"I'll leave you to it," the green Usul said, walking away.
X slipped his hand into Nisha's for emotional support as they traversed the aisles. Noils, Triffins, and Angelpi were passed by without hesitation by Nisha. They had almost been through the entire store and X thought that Nisha would not leave with a Petpet. He also thought that she was too picky (but he wasn't going to tell her that!). Then, he was shaken from his thoughts by high-pitched barking.
Curious, they approached a pen with a lone Drugal in it. The Drugal wagged his tail at Nisha but barked at X, snapping at Love when she stuck her nose to the bars. Love stepped back, whining in concern even as Nisha stepped forward. X rubbed Love's head to comfort her, murmuring sweet nothings. Nisha crouched and the Drugal licked her hand.
The eventide Aisha scooped up the Drugal. "This is the one I want."
"Nisha, are you sure?" X asked.
The Drugal licked Nisha's face enthusiastically, wagging his tail wildly. Nisha laughed and playfully pushed him away, unsuccessfully averting his affectionate overtures. X was not a weak Gelert and had suffered hardship when he was younger but he did have one weakness: Nisha. The Aisha had him wrapped around her little finger and he would do anything for her, especially if it brought her joy (and she knew that). X sighed and looked helplessly at Love.
"OK, let's pay the shopkeeper," X said (and get this over with, he finished the thought).
At X's voice, the Drugal had twisted in Nisha's arms and growled a squeaky growl at him. Love didn't react and X realized that Love understood that the Drugal was afraid, covering his fear with faux aggression. He felt a pang of sympathy for the Petpet for he knew all too well what the Drugal must have experienced to behave this way.
The shopkeeper looked startled when they approached, the Drugal shaking in Nisha's arms. "You want this Petpet? Are you-"
"Yes, we're sure," X interjected quickly.
X paid the shopkeeper then turned to Nisha, a smile plastered on his face. The Drugal still wriggled and shook in Nisha's arms.
"Nisha, you go on ahead. I'll be right with you," X said.
Nisha didn't protest. X watched her exit, talking in a low, soothing voice to her Petpet. Then, he turned back to the shopkeeper.
"What can you tell me about that Drugal's history?" X asked.
"Not much. The poor thing was a stray that showed up one day. He was a complete mess! While he's older than the ones I sell, I felt sorry for him. So, I cleaned him up and put him in the Drugal pen.
"He's been here for months and no one has even looked at him. Drugals are a hot commodity but not him. In case you didn't notice, he has a broken tail. Anyway, even if he was young or perfect looking, by now you've noticed his less than perfect personality. His fear speared him to act aggressively towards potential buyers.
"Your... friend was the first Neopet that the Drugal changed his tune with. I'm just glad he's finally out of the shop. I was starting to worry that he would scare off customers. I'll think twice before I help another stray," the shopkeeper said.
"Thank you. I'm grateful for what you could tell me."
X and Love left the shop and joined Nisha, who had been waiting patiently for them. The Drugal looked at them with fearful yellow eyes.
"We should get some supplies for this little guy," X said, flicking his ears in the Drugal's direction.
The Drugal snapped at X's long, dangling ears and the spotted Gelert quickly twitched them out of reach. It was a longer walk to the Petpet supply shop. All the while the Drugal wriggled in Nisha's arms, looking at everything and barking at everyone. X's patience was wearing thin and Nisha looked rumpled. They didn't arrive at the Petpet shop too soon.
They bought toys, a ball, a squeaker, a chew toy, a rope, bowls, a brush, food, a harness, a leash, a name tag and nail clippers. X knew well the deluge of items needed for a Petpet. Laden with bags, they finally headed for Nisha's Neohome. The Drugal tugged on the leash the entire way, continuing to bark. X was thankful that he was a Gelert because he had incredibly dexterous ears and tail; he opened the front door with one ear.
X dropped his load of bags gratefully. He turned to look at Nisha and her new Petpet. The Drugal stood paused in the doorway, eyes wide. He was shaking. Nisha knelt down and gently spoke the most comforting words she knew.
"Welcome home, Fluffy. Welcome home."