Needed Too: Part Six
An air of anxious tension hung over the junkyard as the
pets within it lined up for dinner just as they did every day. Today was no
ordinary day though, as was evidenced by the fact that almost everyone had inadvertently
come home early and now they all stood about murmuring and smiling uncontrollably,
trying to go about their normal routine but too excited to actually eat the
food that they'd collected. It was what the junkyard pets had dubbed Owner Day--the day once every few months when many of them would meet the humans that Dantam
had paw-picked to be their owners.
Dantam was the only one who didn't seem to be
sharing in the giddy excitement of the others, which was certainly unusual,
but everyone was too caught up in their own overwhelming thoughts and feelings
to notice his odd mood much. Every ear in the junkyard encampment stood at attention
when Tessa and Portia finally came marching up with smug expressions on their
faces. The cloud gelert and yellow elephante stood silently before everyone,
making them all wait breathlessly. Finally, Tessa spoke, but not the words that
they were waiting to hear. "Hmmm, what is everyone being so quiet for, Portia?"
Portia smiled and replied loudly, "I just don't know, Tessa. It's almost as
if they're waiting for us to say something, isn't it?"
"Why yes, it is!" Tessa continued. While the
others groaned, Dantam thought affectionately that Tessa was not a very good
actress, and he couldn't help but let a small smile overcome his otherwise dark
mood. "But what could it be?" she asked, looking up at the sky as if the answer
would be there.
Instead, the answer came charging at them in
the form of a tiny ball of red fur rolling across the ground and finally butting
into Tessa's front paws. Koda stood up, shook herself, and then shouted up at
them in her tiny voice, "Tell us they're here!"
Tessa and Portia fell into giggles, giving up
on their act as they shouted out together, "They're here!"
With a chorus of whoops, howls, and hollers,
each of the other pets headed out of the safety of their encampment and toward
the entrance to the junkyard to find out if an owner had been found for them
this time around--some running ahead eagerly and some lagging behind in uncertainty.
Dantam found himself smiling again at the familiar mix of excitement and nervousness,
following behind the group with Tessa and Portia and nudging the hesitant pets
on with as much encouragement as he could muster.
Once they emerged from the maze of junk and the
entrance to the junkyard came into view, the two gelerts and elephante stopped
to watch the scenes of pets and owners searching and finding each other. Dantam
looked over at Portia, expecting her to go and join the others in the fray,
but it turned out that despite her earlier antics with Tessa, the young elephante
was now one of the Neopets dealing with nerves rather than excitement. She stood
stock still between Dantam and Tessa almost as if she expected them to shelter
her despite the fact that she towered over both of them. Her eyes scanned the
crowd anxiously before finally turning to meet Dantam's. He offered her his
most reassuring smile and then lifted a paw to point out a young girl, her face
sprinkled with freckles, who was wandering through the crowds with just as much
uncertainty as Portia had painted across her face at the moment.
Portia offered Dantam a grateful smile and then
took a few steps away from him and Tessa and toward the girl before she paused
to look back at him, hesitancy still shining in her big eyes. "Go on, Portia,"
Dantam said. "You'll love her." Portia needed no more than those words from
him. She turned away again and went running into the crowd and toward her new
owner as quickly as her stocky legs would carry her.
Now that only the two of them remained, Tessa
edged her way over to Dantam and laid her head against his shoulder contentedly
as the two of them continued to watch the tableau of happy scenes below. Dantam
thought to himself that he should pull away, but ultimately he couldn't bring
himself to do so. It felt too good to have her there and his heart was weighed
down with the thought that this would be the last time that she would be there.
So, while his head told him to distance himself, his heart told him to savor
this closeness while he could, and for once he let it win out. Instead of moving
away, he leaned his own cheek against her head in response and watched as his
sigh ruffled the tuft of sky blue fur on her forehead. And he tried not to think
about anything else.
This resolution was short-lived, however, for
moments later he and Tessa both noticed a new human arriving late through the
junkyard's entrance--a tall, blonde man who looked up at the two gelerts and
waved, smiling, before going into a jog toward them. Tessa lifted her head from
Dantam's shoulder to give him a puzzled look, but Dantam just looked back at
her with his mouth opened slightly, unable to find anything to say. He turned
away from her gaze as he felt tears beginning to sting his eyes, and Tessa was
left with only the approaching man to look at questioningly.
"Tessa!" the man cried out when he was finally
within a few yards of the two gelerts. Tessa looked to Dantam again, wondering
how this stranger knew her name, but he was still turned away, refusing to meet
her eyes. "Oh Tessa, Tessa, my dear, sweet girl!" The man bent down, sweeping
her up into his arms and hugging her to him tightly.
"Dantam!" Tessa cried in alarm at finding the
man's arms around her. The panic in her voice finally caused Dantam's head to
snap up to look at her as she twisted out of the stranger's hold and took a
few steps away from him. "Dantam, who is this?" she gritted out, refusing to
tear her wary eyes away from the man who still stood before her with his arms
held out pleadingly.
"Tessa, don't you recognize him?" Dantam asked
her. Tessa broke her stare to turn to him for a moment, her brow wrinkled. She
shook her head. Dantam turned back to look at the man with her and swallowed.
"He's your owner, Tessa."
"Oh, Tessa," the man interrupted, reaching out
a tentative hand to stroke her head. Tessa stood stiffly, allowing the contact,
but looking distinctly uncomfortable. "I thought I'd lost you forever."
"I met him last night," Dantam explained, "when
I was out. His name's Tom, and he--he told me all about you. And he said that
one night someone broke into your old neohome and you were gone the next morning.
You must have gotten away from the petnapper somehow and lost your memory in
the process for some reason. I was hoping it'd come back to you once you saw
him--" Tessa shook her head at him again. "But I'm sure you'll remember eventually,
Tessa," Dantam tried to assure her. "You two just need to spend some more time
together, get back into your old routine--your old life."
Even as he said the words, Dantam felt his heart
breaking. And as he ran out of anything to say, he turned and began to walk
away, intent on leaving Tessa to repair her life with her owner and forget about
the brief interruption that he and the junkyard had been in it. But Tessa broke
away from her owner again and walked after him, her voice stopping him in his
tracks. "But Dantam, I thought--"
Dantam looked back over his shoulder at her.
"You thought what, Tessa?" he asked her, his tone bittersweet. Then he gave
her a half-smile. "Nobody's supposed to stay here forever." Tessa still looked
at him doubtfully. "Go on, Tessa," Dantam said, his voice falling to a near-plea.
"Go and be happy."
At the desperation in his voice, Tessa finally
relented, allowing Tom to pull her into his arms once again and fasten a leash
to the collar that still hung around her neck. She followed him slowly out of
the junkyard amidst the other pets and their new owners who were now happily
dispersing into the streets of Neopia Central. She kept looking back over her
But Dantam, turning away with a pained sigh and
trudging back into the center of the junkyard among the slightly disappointed
but still hopeful pets who had not found owners this time around, refused to
Later that night, as the remaining junkyard pets
gathered around a campfire to tell stories, sing songs, and generally console
each other, Dantam laid in his barrel trying to sleep rather than joining in
the festivities as he normally would. However, he couldn't seem to find the
peaceful oblivion of sleep even though he so very badly wanted to. He tossed
and turned within the tiny space, his words from earlier echoing back at him
over and over in his mind. "Nobody's supposed to stay here forever."
"Nobody but me," he whispered to himself, finally
allowing a single tear to roll down his face and splatter on the dusty ground.
To be continued...