Mother's Balloon: Part Seven
Featuring Lunch for Supper, A Trip to a Castle, and Confusion
"I guess we're not having supper tonight." Caleb said with a frown.
"Will we be going to bed hungry, Ma?"
"Have I ever let you go to bed hungry before?" Mrs. Worthington glowered at Hannah.
"No, Ma." The blue Kougra retreated behind her stringy blonde hair.
"Everybody calm down." Mr. Worthington ordered with all the authority that could be expected of the head of the family. "It's not like any of you are going to starve. Now, we have no shortage of bread, and I got some real nice cheese from the market today. We can have cheese sandwiches for supper."
"Cheese sandwiches?" complained Bettina. "That's lunch food, not supper."
"Well, that's a bonus then, eh Betty?" the brown Kougra joked. "We don't usually get lunch! Come on now, the cheese is in the ice box, and we got lots of butter too."
The Worthingtons went to work, but their houseguest remained in her seat. She did not try to help this time around, and she wondered if she ever would again. Her hands hurt too much to hold a knife to slice cheese or butter bread, and even if she was able to carry her own plate to the table, she would probably just drop it and smash it on the floor, and then everyone would step on the pieces, and would end up dropping their dishes as well.
Don't be an idiot. Reyela mentally berated herself. You're not that clumsy. It was just a stupid mistake.
But what if it was not a mistake? Or what if it was not entirely her fault? What if it was a sign to her that she was not meant to be a helpful person, of any value to anyone?
Now you're just being ridiculous, Reyela. If it bothers you that much, the solution is simple. All you have to do is sit and stay put. If you never try to be helpful, you'll never have to find out that you're not meant to be helpful.
But it was difficult for her to sit and let the Worthingtons serve her, not only because she felt bad, but because she wanted to assist in the preparation of the meal. The way the seven neopets worked together was a beautiful sight to see. Reyela wondered if they did it because they were a family, or if they were a family because they worked together in everything they did. Whichever it was, she was not content with merely sitting and watching. She wanted to be a part of it, whatever it was they had.
"So... I suppose it's safe for me to assume that you do not need my assistance making cheese sandwiches."
Medis gave a look that the red Draik could not quite read. "Do you really want to help, Reyela?"
She thought he was going to say, 'Then get out of everyone's way' or, 'Then don't eat supper tonight'. But instead the Kougra asked her if her hands would be all right.
"My hands?" Reyela repeated in surprise. "Um, yes, my hands will be fine! Is there anything I can do for you?"
They assigned her to bread cutting duty, and they all expressed their utmost gratitude.
"How do you do that so fast?" Bettina goggled, taking a break from helping her mother clean the floor to watch the scarlet Draik's extraordinary slicing.
"Your hands look like they hurt. They're turning beat red on the inside."
"They were red to begin with, Bettina dear." Reyela chirped mirthfully. "I'll be fine, don't worry. I'll be just fine."
Her scalded hands were stinging as she sliced away at the homemade bread, but she barely noticed the pain for the bliss that she felt — The gladness that her friends had forgiven her.
"So, did you see anything interesting at the marketplace today?" Mrs. Worthington asked her husband when everyone had sat down to eat.
"Aw, same old, same old." Mr. Worthington said in reply. "Coby's had grapes on sale, but I know no one but me is crazy 'bout grapes, so I only got half a bushel. And I was talking to Mr. McGuiness today, and he said that his shop wasn't doing very well. He fears he won't be able to stay open through the winter. He says it's expensive enough to keep the place heated, and apparently winter isn't the best selling season for shoe salesman."
"The poor man." Mrs. Worthington sympathized. "You can tell him we'll be giving him some business this winter. Caleb and Hannah will both need new boots."
"Ma, how come I never get new boots?" wondered Bettina.
"Because you have a nice big sister who's always willing to give you her old ones."
"Oh." said Bettina, feeling enlightened.
"Ma, you don't have to buy me new boots this year." said Caleb, altruistically. "Mine are only a bit too small, and I'm sure there are more important things we need to buy this winter."
"Your Ma and I appreciate the thought son," assured Mr. Worthington. "But, uh..."
"But if you don't get me new boots, you'll just be having to get them for Medis instead?" Caleb guessed.
"And then it'll be at least ten years before they'll get used again after Medis." added Mr. Worthington. "They'll probably be worn out by the time Colton gets to them."
"And in ten years, they might not be the fashion anymore." Bettina jested.
"Oh yes, we cannot have anyone in this family out of fashion!" Hannah joined the fun. "We don't know what colour of coat Colton will have when he's ten years old. What if the boots don't match the coat? Or what if the styles don't look quite right together?"
"What if everyone in Brightvale County has the same boots by then! Our Colton can't look too ordinary either! He has to look different from everybody else!"
"But also the same, 'cause that's what fashion is." Hannah fleered.
The girls were both laughing very hard now. Reyela laughed too, but not as heartily as they did. She had always dreamed of being the very pinnacle of fashion, but now that she heard fashion described in this way, it sounded like a very silly thing for anyone to strive for. She remembered how upset she had been when she had gotten grass stains on her dress. She was afraid one of them would comment, but then she saw the clothes that they were wearing. They were not sparkling clean, or anywhere near new. They were hand-me-downs, as anyone could very plainly see. But they were charming in their own way, and the charm that they possessed was very different from the charm of a new silk dress, purchased from a high-end store in Brightvale City. It was a humbler, friendlier, livelier charm, and Reyela was starting to think it was better than any temporal charm she had ever known.
"It's settled." Hannah declared. "If we want Colton to be a fashion role model, he'll have to have new boots, and a new coat. To Brightvale City we go!"
"That'll be enough, girls." their mother told them to settle down, though she secretly thought the game of pretend to be very amusing herself. "Eat your sandwich, Bettina, you haven't even touched it."
"Did we sound like we were from the city, Reyela?" inquired Hannah suddenly. "Is that what Neopians there are like?"
"Hannah, what kind of a question is that?" cried Mr. Worthington. "That's not the kind of thing you say to a guest! Apologize to Reyela!"
"Oh, that won't be necessary..." All at once, it occurred to Reyela that the Worthingtons still believed she lived close to Brightvale City. Medis must not have told them her secret, and she hadn't even asked for him not to.
"Yes Hannah, that's precisely what Neopians from the city are like." she imagined. "They're all so caught up in material things, that they scarcely even think about anything else."
After supper that night, Medis volunteered to do the dishes, and Reyela offered to help. When they were the only ones left in the kitchen, Reyela attempted to thank the biscuit Kougra for not telling his family of her lie. She wanted to tell him how grateful she was, and that he was a good friend for doing so, but no matter how she tried, she couldn't find the proper words to say.
"The rest of these cups can air-dry and we'll use them for breakfast tomorrow." Medis turned the last cup over, and hung his towel on the oven to dry. "Looks like we're done! Come on, let's go in the other room."
"Thank you." Reyela said suddenly, before Medis could get away. "Thank you."
"What the heck are you thanking me for?" he grinned mischievously. "You did pretty much all the work. And I stood by and let you!"
"Not for that." she almost whispered. "For your family, and what you didn't tell them...?"
"You're welcome." Medis nodded, not requiring further details.
"You're a real friend." she added, hoping she wasn't going too far.
Medis shrugged, just as she had expected him too. Then he smiled. "So are you."
The rest of the evening was spent laughing in the living room, where there were not enough seats for the Worthingtons plus Reyela. When Medis realized this, he plopped down in the middle of the floor, and told Reyela to take his spot.
"Hey, that's not fair!" Caleb shouted at his younger brother. "I'm the oldest child, I should give up my seat for the guest." He rose from the couch, and kneeled on the floor beside the Kougra. "You can sit there, Miss Reyela."
"You can have my seat, Reyela." Hannah and Bettina said in unison.
"I think I should be the one to sit on the floor, Hannah, because I'm the youngest besides Colton."
"What sense does that make?" puzzled Hannah.
"I've been here the shortest time! This has been yours, and Medis' and Caleb's house way longer than it's been mine!"
"Medis! Do you still have that Virtupets tape recorder?" Hannah asked urgently.
"It bit the dust last month." he said in mock-soberness. "We won't be able to get her to say it again anyway. Reyela, if you want my own personal opinion, I think you should take Hannah's spot."
"Well why my spot?" the blue Kougra inquired.
"Because you seem to like it on the floor the most."
When the blue Kougra pounced on the Yurble, it started an all-out tickle fight. Reyela stood on the couch and laughed as she watched the four siblings chase each other around the perimeter of the room. Mrs. Worthington set Colton down in the middle of the rug, and before long all the children, including Reyela, were lying on the ground, observing how large the world looked through the eyes of a smaller neopet.
"It is like a castle." Reyela murmured in awe.
"This must be what it's like to be Colton." Caleb chortled, as the brown Yurble baby toddled between the two couches, to the chair, to the couches again, looking at the great pieces of furniture as if they belonged in a giant's home.
No one wanted to go to bed when the clock struck ten. No one, that is, besides Bettina who would have been counting the minutes for the day to end, if she were capable of counting that high.
"Don't forget it's my birthday tomorrow!" she reminded every member of her family, as they all walked single file up the creaky wooden stairs. When it was Reyela's turn to pass into the hallway, Bettina jumped in front of her with her legs and arms spread as far as they could, in the shape of a skinny four-point star.
"You have to guess the secret word." the blockade demanded. "It's a new rule for anyone who's not in our family who wants to get past this part of the stairs."
"But I don't know what the secret word is." The red Draik tried to get around her, but the Usul was persistent.
"I'll tell you the secret word if you don't know it. You have to say that you're going to stay here until after we have birthday cake tomorrow."
Reyela's one eyebrow raised slightly. "I would never have guessed that. What time are you going to eat cake tomorrow? In the day, or in the evening after supper? I'm supposed to be leaving after supper, but maybe Mr. Bill will be kind enough to let me stay until after we've finished."
"What if we don't finish until midnight? Would you stay until then? Or what if we don't finish until next month, or next year? Do you promise you'll still stay?"
Reyela didn't know what to make of this. "Why ever would you want to wait that long for your birthday cake? I was under the impression you were looking forward to it. Has something changed?"
"I wish you could stay." the little Usul sighed wistfully. "I wouldn't mind having another older sister. And I've lived here a lot longer than you have, so that would make you kinda like my little sister, wouldn't it? I could show you how to live here, and teach you all about our farm and everything! "
She wanted to hug her, like she had seen the other Worthingtons do so many times before. Like her mother had always done with her when she had something important to say, but her thoughts meant much too much to be put into words. But she could not.
"I'm sorry, Bettina, but I cannot stay here. My father is looking for me, and he can't wait in Brightvale City forever. I have to meet him there, so that he can take me home."
Though Bettina was very young, she fully understood why Reyela was not able to stay with them. Still, she couldn't help but feel disappointed when the Draik gave her a definite no, and she went to her room with her head hung so low that her long ears were practically dragging on the ground.
"The poor dear." Reyela sighed with great remorse. "I wish that there was something I could do."
She knew that by now she should have had at least an idea of what she would do when she arrived in the city tomorrow, but her mind was drawing a complete blank, and no matter how long she stayed awake trying to formulate a plan, the only thoughts that were coming to her were rolling hills, apple orchards and Mallard ponds.
And then there was the thought that her father wasn't missing her at all. Of course, her father wasn't really waiting for her in Brightvale City. She didn't have to return with him to her home, or see him ever again if she didn't want to. She could make a new life for herself in the land of lords and ladies, where she could wear the latest fashions, eat the finest foods, and live among people who had whatever their hearts desired. The ones who lived in castles, the happiest neopets in Neopia...
Oh, help me Mother. Reyela pleaded that night, as the country sky lightened and the stars began to fade. Why did that confounded balloon bring me here of all places? Two days ago, the only thing I knew was that I knew what I wanted. Now I'm not even sure of that. I have lost everything, Mother, and now I am losing my own self. It's as though I'm fading off into the distance, Mother. Just like you, and the purple balloon.
To be continued…