The small orange Kougra stood in the doorway of her NeoHome,
peering out into the oncoming dusk. Inside, her owner Tangerine_Paws was finishing
up the NeoPasta.
"Maexima!" she called to her. "Dinner's ready!"
The Kougra sighed and shook her head, turning
to walk back into the house. "He's still not here," she said sadly. "I don't
think he's ever gonna come home, Tangy."
Tangy smiled sympathetically. "I'm sure Maxique
will be back soon. You know Faerie Quests can take a while." The Kougra nodded
doubtfully. Her owner ladled a big scoop of pasta onto Maexima's plate, then
turned and served herself some. "Now eat," she ordered with a smile. "It'll
make you feel better."
"Exactly what kind of Quest is Maxique on?"
Maxeima wondered aloud after a few moments. "What did the Fire Faerie want him
to find?" She frowned. She had been pretty young when the Fire Faerie had appeared
on their doorstep and asked her older brother to Quest for her, and didn't remember
anything. He had accepted because of the hopes that he had found a way to quickly
receive something valuable to sell for a lot of Neopoints, which were desperately
needed to pay their bills. But many long months had passed without him finding
the item the Faerie needed.
Tangy thought for a moment. "Well..." she said
slowly, "I think she asked him to find her a Fire Scorchstone."
"What?!" Maexima exclaimed. "But those are expensive!
How will he ever afford one, even at discount price?"
The young brunette sighed. "That's why we don't
have a TV. I sold it so he could have enough Neopoints to complete the Quest.
All we can do is hope that the reward will be greater than the cost of the item."
The Kougra nodded disappointedly. "I still wish
Maxique had stayed home, even if we do need the Neopoints," she muttered. Her
owner laid a gentle hand on her shoulder reassuringly.
"Well, I better go clean the dishes," Tangy
said suddenly. Maexima glanced down, startled, and realised she had finished
eating. Guessing her surprised expression, Tangy grinned. "Yeah, you were just
sorta sitting there. You really miss him, don't you?" she added softly.
"Yeah..." Maexima whispered. "I just want him
to come home..."
After helping Tangy with the dishes, Maexima walked slowly up the stairs to
her bedroom. She pulled back the curtains and gazed listlessly down the drive.
Maxique still hadn't come. Obviously. Sighing, the Kougra flopped back on her
bed and stared at the ceiling. It was painted to look like the sky, with a deep
blue background and fluffy white clouds here and there. Maxique had helped to
paint it, as well as the walls designed to look like endless green fields. Tangy
had told Maexima countless times how her brother had been so excited about having
a new baby sister, and did everything he could to help prepare for her homecoming.
Yeah, he sure was excited about my arrival,
Maexima thought gruffly. Excited enough to leave soon after I came to live here.
But behind her bravado, she knew she was sad and missed her older brother desperately.
At least I still have Tangy. Maexima continued to stare at the ceiling, seemingly
lost. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks as she hugged her pillow, and eventually
she cried herself asleep.
A little while later, Tangy knocked softly and
pushed the door open. Seeing the Kougra on top of the bed, she walked over and
gently tucked the blankets around the sleeping form. Touching Maexima's cheek,
the girl felt the dried tears.
"She's so lonely," Tangy murmured as she stroked
Maexima's black-streaked orange pelt. Sighing, she fondled her ears. "She just
needs a friend..."
Maexima awoke to bright sunlight streaming through the still-parted curtains.
She glanced hopefully out the window, but her heart sank as she saw that Maxique
wasn't approaching. Her gaze drifted over to the calendar above her desk. It
still showed the Month of Eating. Rising, the depressed Kougra loped over and
flipped it to Celebrating.
She stared at the calendar for a minute, lost
in memory. Back in Eating she still had hopes that Maxique would come soon.
She had then lost that hope, ceasing to attend school, participate in holiday
festivals and public activities...apparently she had also forgotten to change
the calendar. Every morning she awoke with a new hope, but that spark of belief
was doused the instant she saw the empty drive. Maexima sighed. She was doomed
to live in grief forever.
With a start, the Kougra realised that the Month
of Celebrating was also the Christmas season. She had neglected all festivities
ever since Maxique's departure, but Christmas held a special meaning for her.
It was on Christmas Eve that the Fire Faerie had appeared, and while they still
celebrated the holiday, it was on that day that Maexima developed an empty feeling
inside her. And even though her full depression hadn't come until Eating, the
Kougra still felt oddly Christmas.
A sudden, worried thought sent Maexima dashing
down the stairs and into Tangy's room. Her owner was still asleep. Gazing at
the young woman, the Kougra felt a stab of pity. It was hard enough as it was,
what with tending a NeoHome and keeping house for two, when Tangy made very
little money at her job. Maexima hadn't helped in the slightest over the course
of the past months. Glancing at her owner again, she could see that the girl
didn't sleep in merely for pleasure. There were circles under her eyes, and
she dozed fitfully. Tangy slept from sheer exhaustion.
Still, Maexima could not forget the reason she
had come running into her owner's room so vigorously. Trotting over, she nudged
Tangy's hand with her cold nose. One gray eye cracked open, then the other.
"What is it?" Tangy asked groggily. Her eyes
fluttered closed again, but Maexima could tell she was still awake. Her slender
hand stroked the Kougra's head.
"What's today?" Maexima inquired eagerly, barely
able to contain her nervous excitement. Even she could tell her voice sounded
high and false, but Tangy didn't seem to notice.
"No, I mean what day is it!"
"Umm..." Tangy opened her eyes again. Rubbing
them, she looked around the room until she found her own calendar. "It's the
Maexima stared at the calendar, eyes wide. Then
she began to shake. "What's wrong?" Tangy asked worriedly.
"T-to-m-m-morrow i-is, I-is" Maexima trailed
off and shook her head. She collapsed on the floor, still shaking.
Tangy nodded with understanding. Climbing out
of bed, she sat down on the rug and took Maexima's head in her arms and stroked
her nose, cooing softly. Slowly the Kougra began to relax. Still shivering slightly,
she licked Tangy's cheek.
"There, there," her owner said, rubbing Maexima's
forehead. "I know you miss him. Tomorrow's gonna be hard, isn't it?" Maexima
nodded. "Tell you what. Why don't we go to the pound later and see if we can't
find you a little brother or sister to bring home? Maybe that'll help you feel
Maexima shrugged, indifferent. She didn't see
how getting a new sibling would help to heal the pain left by her older brother's
departure, but she knew Tangy was just trying to help. She might as well make
the best of it, and be grateful. After all, it was Tangy who would have another
mouth to feed, and sacrificing even more time and money in an attempt to make
the Kougra feel better was incredibly kind and selfless. She was a really good
person, putting others before herself.
A few hours later, the Kougra stood with her owner outside the pound. They
walked in, Tangy laying a calming hand on Maexima's head. Trembling, Maexima
gazed around at all the poor pets in cages, without an owner to love and care
for them. Maexima felt like one of those pets. Sure, she had Tangy, just like
they had the kind workers to feed and play with them. But, like them, she felt
empty, like there was something missing from her life. She was trapped in a
cage of her own grief.
Shuddering, Maexima turned away. She wished
she could help all of the pets. But just seeing them and their eternal sadness
made her think of Maxique. They were like her, in a way: they had all given
up hope, but every time a potential new owner walked in, they became slightly
more spirited, hopeful. As soon as the owner turned away, they were down in
the dumps. Maexima couldn't bear to see that.
The Kougra walked slowly from the pound. Tangy
followed, puzzled. But Maexima couldn't explain how she felt when around the
pound pets, and didn't even make an effort to try. All the way home, she sat
silently staring out the window, thinking, but she didn't mention what had driven
her from the pound.
Once home, Maexima went up to her room. She
sat on her bed and simply stared at the ceiling, like she had the previous night
and so many nights before. She eventually cried herself to sleep, like she had
the previous night and so many nights before. And Tangy came and tucked her
in, like she had the previous night and so many nights before.
"Poor thing," the brunette sighed. "Life's so
hard on her. On both of us. But especially on her."
Maexima blinked and murmured in her sleep. "What?"
Tangy asked, leaning close.
"One year. One whole year..."
The next day Maexima did not wake up. At least, not properly. Around 10 o'clock
Tangy came in and wished her happy Christmas, but the Kougra barely stirred.
She lay in bed all day. Several times Tangy came and offered to make hot chocolate
and pancakes, or to play a game, or to bring up the holiday presents. Maexima
declined. She knew she was being hard on Tangy. But Maexima simply could not
bring herself to celebrate.
Just after noon, Tangy poked into Maexima's
room and announced that she was going out for a while. The Kougra muttered a
half-hearted reply. Closing the door softly, Tangy slipped back down the stairs
and out the front door. She returned about an hour later. To Maexima, it made
no difference. She wouldn't have noticed if Tangy had never returned. She was
too caught up in her own sorrow.
For the rest of the day, Tangy kept busy. She
cleaned the house, although it was practically spotless from all the other days
when Maexima was too sad to do anything of interest. She swept and mopped and
dusted. The young woman baked three Organic Apple pies and topped them with
powdered sugar. But even though the sweet, freshly-baked smell drifted up the
stairs to the lonely Kougra's nose, she didn't come bounding down to ask for
some as she had when she was young. When Maxique was still at home.
After a while, Tangy retired to her own bed.
There wasn't much to do. Everything that could possibly be done on her own had
been done already. She switched on the radio. Not for the first time, she wished
they still had a TV. The girl chuckled softly. If they still had a TV, she wouldn't
be needing it. If they still had a TV, then that would mean Maxique had never
left. If they still had a TV, then both Maexima and Maxique would be here, happy
that it was Christmas, and all three of them would be laughing and playing and
celebrating and enjoying themselves. She glanced toward the corner of the room.
'All three of them'. No, that wasn't right. Try for four...
Thud. Thud thud thud. Thud! THUD! Maexima rolled over. Somebody was
hitting her on the head, only it didn't hurt. It was just loud...her large amber
eyes cracked open. Nobody was hitting her on the head. But something was definitely
loud. The Kougra listened closely. Someone was knocking at the door. Her eyelids
fluttered closed again. Tangy would answer it...
Thud thud. Thud! The sound again. Tangy
apparently hadn't opened the door. Maexima sighed. Her owner must be listening
to the dreaded radio again. The girl was oblivious to everything else with that
thing on. Well, tough luck for whoever was trying to visit them. She wasn't
going to get out of bed just to answer the door. She didn't have the heart.
THUD THUD THUD! The knocking again with
more urgency this time. The Kougra groaned. That person just wasn't going to
give up. Reluctantly, Maexima rolled to her feet and wandered down the stairs
toward the front door. She met up with Tangy in the hall. Obviously the brunette
could hear this even over the radio. THUD! Maexima shrugged. Whoever
it was, they would just have to be patient for a few seconds longer before they
could be greeted by two grumps.
Maexima sat down. Tangy yanked open the door.
Both their jaws dropped as they stared at the person on their front stoop.
"MAXIQUE!!!!!" Maexima shrieked, thrusting herself
at her brother. The two Kougras rolled over into the grass. Jumping to her feet,
Maexima nuzzled her older brother vigorously, and he licked her nose in return.
Tangy came running down the steps and grabbed them both up in a big hug. The
three simply sat there quietly for a moment, happy to be together again. There
was no reason for words.
Perhaps the family would have sat there, quietly
and happily, for the rest of this story. They seemed to be content with merely
being with one another. But an additional character, up until now not introduced,
happened to come running out of the house at just this moment.
The orange Kougra, smaller than both Maexima
and Maxique, hurled himself at the family. Startled, the two older Kougras stared
at their nemesis. Tangy just laughed. "Oh, didn't I mention? When I went out
today, I went to Create-A-Pet and got you a new little brother in the hopes
that he might lift your spirits. Of course, now that Maxique is home, they don't
need lifting... but he's still very loveable and fun to be around. His name
The three Kougras stared at one another for
a moment longer. Then Maexion tumbled over and nudged Maexima with his tiny
wet nose. Giggling, she licked his ear. "Hi there," she said to her younger
brother. "Welcome to the family." She turned to her older brother. "Welcome