Mother's Balloon: Part Six
Featuring Jimmy, All the Petpets, a Trip to the Marketplace and Suppertime
"R elax, Jimmy, it's only me."
The startled Vacana calmed down in an instant when he heard the sound of his owner's voice. He perked up his ears and trotted over to the Kougra, his stubby tail swishing back and forth like a Dogelfox about to get a treat.
"Ahem." Reyela cleared her throat.
"Oh," said Medis, taking the hint. "Reyela's here too, Jimmy. You remember her, don't you? She's real nice."
Reyela put her hand up to pet Jimmy, but the Vacana ducked and backed away.
"I thought you said he liked me." the scarlet Draik knit her brow.
"He does like you." Medis insisted. "You just put your hand up too fast. You've gotta go slowly, like this." He calmly approached the shaggy petpet, and gently patted his velvet nose. "Now you try."
She walked up to Jimmy in the same way Medis had, and this time when she tried to pat him, he rubbed against her hand, and started chewing on a loose strand of her hair as if it were a piece of hay.
"Bad Jimmy!" she scolded. "What in Neopia do you think you're doing? I am not your lunch!"
Medis howled. "You should have seen your face just now! He's playing with you, not trying to eat you!"
"Is that so? Perhaps I should chew on his ear, and see how he likes it."
Jimmy bobbed his head, as if he had understood her and was nodding, saying, 'I would like that very much.'
Reyela sighed. "I wish every petpet could be like Jimmy."
"I bet it's your eyes she likes." the biscuit Kougra teased his petpet. "You know, there's just something about those eyes that makes people always want to see them."
"I mean because he's kind, and gentle. I know I don't have to worry about him kicking or biting me. It would be so nice if other petpets could be the same."
"Most of them are." Medis scratched the Vacana under the chin until the creature was drooling with delight. "Of course, it all depends on how they themselves have been treated. A petpet only knows what its owner has taught it. If they've only been taught cruelty all their lives, you can't expect them to treat a neopet, or another petpet with kindness."
"But what if the petpet doesn't have an owner to teach them right from wrong? Or what if the owner doesn't have time to teach it, because he's too busy working, or doing other things that don't include his petpet?"
"Um," Medis said after several seconds. "Well, the petpet might end up going wild. You always gotta be careful around a wild petpet, because they haven't been taught right from wrong. They have to choose themselves which way they're going to go. We can only hope they choose the right way."
"And which way do you think the majority of them choose?" Reyela inquired earnestly.
"I don't altogether know, but I have a feeling most of them pick the right way. It's in a petpet's nature, just as it is a neopet's."
Neither of them spoke for a long while after this, and Medis felt that he was seeing yet another side of Reyela as she silently stroked Jimmy's head with all the tenderness and care of a veteran petpet tamer, or of a lonely little girl who was learning to love for the first time. The Draik was the first to brake the silence, when she asked the Kougra how many petpets he had on his farm.
"None of us rightly know at this time." he chuckled. "We counted everyone last spring, and that was a silly thing to do, 'cause we just keep getting more and more."
"I'd like you to introduce me to all of your petpets, Medis." Reyela said out of the blue.
"You know not what you ask." Medis laughed, running his fingers through the single tuft of fur between his ears. "When I say we've got a lot of critters around here, I mean a lot of critters. It would take a lot of time!"
Reyela shrugged in a way that would have made Medis proud, if only he had been aware of the odd habit he had.
"I've got all day." she grinned, and Medis slapped the stall door with glee.
"Then what are we standing here talking for?" he shouted. "Come on, I'll take you to meet the whole gang!"
"Caleb, do you think Reyela likes Liza?"
Bettina followed her brother in and out of the storeroom, as he dragged crates of vegetables out of the barn for Mr. Worthington to load onto the carriage to take to market.
"Sure she does." Caleb answered, in between heaves."Who couldn't like a sweet doll like Liza?"
"I wanna know if you think she likes her really, very much though, Caleb. Do you think she wishes she was her own?"
The Yurble almost dropped the crate of carrots on his toes."You're not thinking about giving away Liza, are you?"
"Don't even say that!" Bettina shrilled, covering the Usul doll's ears. "There was a doll just like Liza in Old Man Ross' store when I went with Pa to the marketplace last Sunday, and I thought since Reyela likes Liza so much that I would go and get it for her. Do I have enough?" She pulled out a small burlap bag from her coat pocket, and held it open for the Yurble to look inside.
"I'm afraid not, honey." He shook his head. "If I remember correctly, those china dolls cost about eight thousand neopoints, and what you've got in there is only about three thousand. I'm sorry, Betty."
"It's no fair!" Bettina wined. "Reyela's never had a doll before, in her whole, whole life! She told me last night, and I thought, 'Bettina, you should get that girl a doll, that's what you should do'. So I got all my neopoints together, and I put it in this bag, and now you tell me that I don't have enough, and I say that's not fair! Do you think Pa would buy it for her, Caleb? Pa's got a lot of neopoints to spend."
"No he doesn't, honey. Especially not now that winter's coming. But I'll tell you what," He shook the little burlap bag, and handed it back to the Usul. "If you're that sure Reyela needs her own doll, then I reckon she really must need her own doll. I've got some neopoints left over from the summertime, when I worked on Uncle Jack's farm. It's in my room, in the top drawer of the dresser. You can go grab it if you want."
Bettina clasped her hands over her mouth. "Really? You really mean you're gonna help me pay for it?"
"Why not? We can't have our friend go her whole life without ever owning a doll. Though I do think it's kinda strange that she doesn't have one, if she's always wanted one. You'd think her father would have gotten one for her."
Bettina paused, not entirely sure what her brother was saying. "Do you think we shouldn't do it?"
"No, no we should definitely do it." he said quickly. "Go get that money, girl!"
The biscuit Usul took off like a rocket into the house, while Caleb and Mr. Worthington loaded the last crates of vegetables onto the carriage. Soon the three of them would be off to the marketplace, and Reyela would finally have the birthday gift she had probably always dreamed of. Bettina felt so good to know she was helping a friend.
Neopia was spinning faster than Reyela thought was possible. She must have still been dizzy from rolling down the hill to the Babaas pasture. Why oh why had she let Medis talk her into doing something so absurd? He said it was the fastest way, and at the time it had seemed like the only rational thing to do. After all, she had been waiting to see the cuddly little things for at least eleven minutes. If she had had to wait a few more seconds, she would certainly have died from the agony of being unable to feel the fleecy fur she had heard so very much about.
To her delight, the Babaas were worth every grass stain she got on her borrowed shirt and pants, and running across the pasture being chased by an angry Nuk that had somehow gotten in with the gentle creatures set her heart aglow in a way Reyela couldn't describe. They walked along a fence to meet the Whinny in its stable, and they were stopped by a friendly Wibreth who cawed right beside Reyela's ear. She screamed, and Medis laughed so hard that Reyela cawed in his ear in revenge. The Kougra was unfazed, but the Wibreth was terrified by the sound, and leapt off the fence, leaving behind only a cloud of red and white feathers.
"You sure told him!" Medis choked through fits of laughter.
"That will be the last time he does something so rude in a lady's ear!" Reyela brushed the imaginary dust off her hands.
They played fetch with a litter of Dogelfox puppies that were more interested in eating sticks than retrieving them, but were adorable nonetheless. They fed cornflakes to the gobblers, and visited a Blurgah and its calf. Reyela was frightened by the Blurgahs when she first saw the giant petpets grazing in the field. Their long legs and bulky bodies were intimidating, and their colossal horns were truly alarming. The Draik soon learned, however, that she had nothing to fear from the beasts, for they were as sweet-tempered as any other petpet on the Worthington farm, and she could see why. Medis was very fond of Delany and Danny, as he called them, and he and his family gave them only the kindest treatment. How could they have been anything but friendly and mild when their lives were so carefree, and charmed?
If Reyela had been born a petpet, and not a neopet, she would have wanted to belong to the Worthingtons. At the moment she was wishing that she had been born a petpet, as it seemed like quite a bit of fun to be one. Petpets rolled in the mud without fear of getting dirty. They could play in the fields all day long, or they could stay inside and be loved and pampered by their owners. They could be as loud as they wanted, eat whatever they felt, and the Worthington family petpets could be around the Worthingtons all the time. The Worthingtons, and their middle son, the boy who understood them better than they understood themselves. What it would be like to be with Medis all the time...
"...This one's Queenie, and this big one here is Charlie."
"Hello Charlie!" Reyela tossed a piece of stale bread to the largest Mallard in the pond. "Is Charlie the father of all these baby Mallards? He has a darling little family."
"She has a darling little family." Medis corrected. "Charlie's actually their mother."
"What kind of a name is Charlie for a female?"
"Well, we didn't always know she was a female. We thought she was a boy until two springs ago, when she started laying eggs. My Ma said Charlie could be short for Charlize, or something real beautiful like that. Me, I like to think of her as just being Charlie. Charlize is too prissy for our mama Mallard."
Reyela smiled and nodded, but then her smile twisted into a sort of frown. "Do you think I am prissy, Medis?"
The Kougra replied with only a single three-letter word. "Yup."
"What do you mean 'yup'?" the Draik demanded. "Aren't you even going to explain why you feel that way? "
"Oh ho!" he teased her. "You panic whenever you get a speck of dirt on your dress, and you're constantly fiddling with your hair to make sure it's perfect. You only put honey on the very middle of your toast this morning, I'm assuming 'cause you didn't want your fingers to get sticky, and you just about covered yourself in napkins last night when we were eating supper."
"We were eating soup, and I'm not used to eating soup!" she protested. "I might have dripped it all over myself! And if you don't like that I like to keep myself looking presentable, well, you just don't have to talk to me anymore. I'm leaving tomorrow evening, I'll be out of your non-hair soon enough."
"I didn't say I didn't like it." Medis caught her by the arm as she began to walk away. "You're different from anyone I've ever met, I guess because we're from two totally different parts of Brightvale. But different isn't a bad thing."
Reyela turned around, and sat back down in front of the Mallard pond. "You know, the part of Brightvale where I live... may not be so very different from this place here. It isn't nearly as pretty as your farm. It's greyer, and flatter, and the air doesn't taste as clean, and the people aren't as neighbourly. But it's still more the same than you think."
Medis shrugged his shoulders. "I reckon a little town near a city could kinda have a countryish feel to it. I'm sure it's a lot more crowded though."
"My closest neighbour lives half a mile away." Reyela blurted suddenly.
The Kougra became quiet. "That doesn't sound like anywhere near Brightvale City..."
"It isn't." Reyela finally admit. "But I wish I lived near it, if not in Brightvale City. When I landed here, I didn't know anything about you or your family, and you didn't know anything about me. I thought it was wonderful that you knew nothing about who I was, or where I had come from. I could make up any silly story about myself, and you wouldn't know any better because you didn't know me. I couldn't say I lived in Brightvale City, because I knew nothing about it, and I figured you would find out I was lying sooner or later..."
"So you made it sound like you lived close enough to the city that you could go at the drop of a hat, because you knew you would never get caught in a lie like that, and it would have been your next biggest dream anyway." Medis finished her sentence for her. "Why are you telling me this now? I probably would have never caught on. All I know about Brightvale City is that our apples are sold there."
"But you know me now." Reyela explained. "And I know you, and, frankly, I don't think I'm capable of pretending to be a sophisticated, city living lady any longer."
"You'd be a sophisticated lady wherever you lived, Reyela." the Kougra consoled her.
Nothing further was said on the matter, until Medis recalled that the Draik had mentioned something about landing on their farm.
"Landing? Why, that would imply that I flew here. But I can't fly. I can do little more than hover."
She denied ever saying such a thing, and Medis assumed he had simply heard wrong. Reyela rebuked herself privately. She did not plan to tell Medis about the balloon unless it became necessary that she tell him, and the way she was continually slipping up told her that the time may be near at hand. But she didn't want to tell him the ridiculous truth. He had just become her friend, and she couldn't lose him now. If the Kougra's friendship meant anything to her —Which it did — she would have to get her act together. She would have to be extra careful.
The carriage rattled down the bumpy dirt road, as the early evening sun sunk below the old pine trees. Tiny arms struggled to hold not only one, but two china dolls on a lap that would not stop bouncing. For once in her life, Bettina wished that the road to her house was paved, so the ride would be gentler, and she would not have to worry about dropping and braking the delicate cargo that meant ever so much to her.
The carriage hit another bump, and the Usul held the dolls so tightly that she could have smothered them herself.
"Are we almost home, Pa?" Bettina called to her father in the front seat, steering the whinny.
Mr. Worthington looked over his shoulder, and promised his daughter they were almost home.
"Why don't you get Caleb to hold onto Reyela's doll if you're having a hard time holding them both."
"I keep offering, Pa." Caleb told him. "But she keeps on saying no."
"Liza wants Reyela's doll to stay here, Pa. She's already becoming friends with her! Isn't that right, Liza? Why, yes Bettina, it is!" Bettina said in Liza's voice.
"Well, if Liza says so." Mr. Worthington shrugged.
"Thanks Pa!" She sang in first her own voice, and then in Liza's. "
Bettina had secretly vowed to Reyela's doll that she would not let it out of her sight until it was safely in Reyela's arms. She had had a difficult enough time trying to purchase the china Usul from the marketplace, partly because she had thought that the doll had been yellow instead of green.
Here's how it happened:
While Mr. Worthington was at the grocery store, unloading twenty-two crates of assorted vegetables from the carriage, Caleb and Bettina had gone into Old Man Ross' general store, where Bettina had seen the china Usul doll displayed in the window the Sunday before. Caleb went up to the store owner, and asked if he still had the yellow-furred Usul doll.
"Just like this one!" Bettina held up Liza for a reference.
"Actually, I don't think I've ever had a doll like that one in this store."
"Are you sure it looked exactly like Liza, Bettina?" Caleb double-checked.
"I'm sure!" the biscuit Usul insisted. "She could be her twin sister! Come on, Caleb, we have to find her!"
They turned the store upside down looking for the yellow Usul doll. Naturally, the first place they searched was the table by the window where Bettina had last seen it. When they didn't find it on the table, they scoured underneath it, and proceeded to do the same to the rest of the shop. They sifted through the rack of clothes, skimmed through the food section, and of course ransacked the toys, but there was still no yellow-furred china Usul doll to be found.
At around that time, Old Man Ross came out from the back room, brandishing a doll out in front of him like a sword. The doll couldn't have looked any more like Liza, except for the colour of the fur around its neck, and the little satin bows in its ears. "It's not this one, is it?" asked the Shoyru shopkeeper.
"That's it! That's the one!" Bettina exclaimed. "She looks exactly like Liza, doesn't she Caleb?"
This was a moment when Caleb Worthington was grateful he didn't have hair. If he did, he would have pulled it out when he looked at the doll, and heard his sister utter these stupid words.
"Confound it, Bettina, you said that doll was yellow!"
"I... I..." Bettina stuttered. "I guess I must have forgot."
Her expression was so innocent and sweet that Mr. Ross laughed out loud, and Caleb didn't know if he wanted to strangle or hug his baby sister. He opted for the second one a few minutes later, when Bettina found they didn't have enough to buy the doll.
"This is a mighty big number, Caleb." She held the price tag right in front of her eyes, as if looking at it extra closely would make the five-digit number easier for her to comprehend.
The Yurble took the doll from her, and turned the tag towards his own eyes. "Ten thousand eight hundred and ninety-nine neopoints." he read the price out loud. "That's crazy! Who in Brightvale besides the king has got that kind of money to spend on a doll?"
"Not too many, I'm afraid." said Mr. Ross. "Three different kids have asked me to put that china Usul on hold for them, telling me their parents will come back for it as soon as they have the neopoints. Nobody's ever come back for it though. I've been hiding it in the back room since Monday for one little girl who said her daddy would come get it in five minutes. I suppose it's safe to say they don't want it anymore."
"I know it's not really my place, Mr. Ross," ventured Caleb. "But if you're having such a hard time selling it, why don't you lower the price?"
"It's not up to me." the brown Shoyru revealed. "The company who manufactures them has recently raised the price. I should have known better than to order it . Nobody's ever going to be able to buy it."
"And Reyela is never gonna have a doll." Bettina sniffled, her eyes welling up with tears. "Poor Reyela."
"Who's Reyela?" wondered Mr. Ross. "I don't believe I've heard you mention her before."
"She's a young girl, around Medis' age, who just showed up at our farm about this time yesterday."
"She and her daddy were going to Brightvale City, and her daddy stopped to talk to someone, and Reyela got bored and she started to wander, and she got lost and ended up at our farm!" Bettina told the story with all of her typical excitement, and enthusiasm.
"Bettina said Reyela said she's never had a doll in her life, and since she seems to like Bettina's doll so much, we thought we'd try to get her one of her own. But Bettina only has three thousand neopoints, and I only have five thousand. It seems we're still more than two thousand neopoints short."
"That is a predicament." the store owner remarked.
"Well, come on then, Bettina, we'd better go help Pa. Thank you for your time, Mr. Ross."
Caleb started towards the door, with his despairing sister in tow. They were about to step out into the bustling marketplace, when Old Man Ross waved them back inside.
"Now wait a second, you two. You came for a doll, and a doll you're gonna get."
"Are you gonna lower the price for us, Mr. Ross?" Bettina asked hopefully.
"That's just what I'm going to do, Miss Bettina." the old Shoyru cheerfully apprised. "Your generosity has inspired me. I'd be happy to lower the price for two upstanding young neopets such as yourselves."
The biscuit Usul inhaled sharply. "Thanks, Mr. Ross!" She embraced the Shoyru's legs.
"Thank you kindly, sir." the blue Yurble tipped his hat, knowing full well that the money had come out of the store owner's own pocket. "That's the nicest thing a fella could do for a couple'a kids in need."
And so from that moment on, Bettina had held the green Usul doll, refusing to let it get away from her as it nearly had twice already. If it hadn't been for the helping hand of old Mr. Ross, who knows how dismal Reyela's life might have been without a china doll to call her own?
"So when are you gonna give it to her?" Caleb asked on the bumpity ride home.
"I don't know yet." she replied. "I want to wait for the moment to be just right."
"Oh, okay." he chuckled. "And how will you know when that is?"
"When she's not yelling and screaming about something. When she's just being nice, that's when I like her best."
"That's when I like her best too."
Before long, the carriage had come to a stop in front of the Worthington family barn.
"You know, you're gonna have to think of a real good hiding place if you don't want Reyela to see it yet." Mr. Worthington noted as he helped his daughter down to the ground.
"Don't worry, Pa! Me and Liza already have an idea, don't we Liza?"
The doll nodded her head, and said, "We sure do!" and the real Usul and china Usul trotted off into the barn.
Super time in the Worthington household was the most joyous time of the day.
Imagine being this happy at least once every day! Reyela thought as she watched the whole family work together to prepare the meal.
Everyone had their own job to do. Mrs. Worthington cut up vegetables, while Mr. Worthington stirred the macaroni. Caleb added sauce to the noodles, once the water had been drained from the pot. Medis poured the drinks, Hannah and Bettina set the table, and Colton sat in his highchair, supervising. Tonight Reyela asked if she could do something to help.
"Just you being our guest is enough for us." Caleb tried to convince her, but Reyela wasn't satisfied.
"Oh, just let me help you!" she demanded. "Here, let me take this to the table for you, Mr. Worthington."
She did hear Mrs. Worthington tell her to use the handles when she went to pick up the steaming pot of macaroni. Unfortunately, it didn't register quick enough for the family's lovely meal to be saved. Reyela cried out in agony above the sound of her hands sizzling against the pot. They probably would have stuck if she hadn't let go at the exact second she had.
The pot flipped upside-down in the air, and the macaroni splattered all over the kitchen floor. Colton started crying when he heard the crashing sound. Somebody told her to run her hands under cold water, but she didn't know exactly who, so focused was she on the pain. She rushed to the tap, turned it on with her elbow, and felt a wave of relief as her burnt skin was immersed in the cold running water.
The burning sensation was gone from her hands, but when she looked at the hungry family who's supper she had just ruined, the feeling returned, this time in her heart. Mrs. Worthington opened her mouth as if to say something, but no words came out.
You stupid girl, Reyela. Reyela was certain she would say. When no Worthington said it, she said it herself, and not one of them told her otherwise. She had spoiled their joyous evening, and all she had done was try to be helpful. Maybe that was why she had never helped anyone in her lifetime. Maybe nothing in her life was meant to be right, and maybe it couldn't be helped.
To be continued…