Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 102,279,292 Issue: 202 | 5th day of Hiding, Y7
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Superficial: Part Four


by shelleylow

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"Well, the answer seems clear to me," Satisha declared at recess the next day. We were sitting at our usual table in the cafeteria, and amidst the hubbub and cheerful bustle I had confided to my friends exactly what it was that Sekya had said to me.

      "Give her a present!" The Wocky seemed confident. "That way she can't say you're spoiled and selfish. It might get you into her good books instead."

      "I don't know," Farowyn put in reservedly. "I know you mean well, Sati. But I'm not sure if that's the best way to deal with them."

      "Oh come now, 'Wyn. What could go wrong? They're sure to see that May isn't at all like what they thought she was." Satisha's tail was beginning to lash excitedly. "In fact, since they seem to lump all four of us as one, why don't we choose the present together? This afternoon. We can pool our NP-"

      "I still don't like it, Sati. We might end up making even more of an enemy of this Gelert... something bothers me. I think May should just not bother about what this Sekya and her friends think."

      "I... I think so too," SugarFlower added, blinking up at us timidly through large Usul eyes. "I don't really want to mess with these pets at all."

      Sati shrugged her brown spotted shoulders. "Well, May, the choice is yours, after all. What do you vote we should do?"

      I considered. I didn't really want to have to tangle with Sekya and her lot again - the icy pain of yesterday still haunted me, and it would be a relief, in a way, to simply let the matter go. But at the same time a part of me cried out against the injustice of being misunderstood and disliked, judged by a bunch of pets that didn't even know me. That part of me niggled, growing in my mind, until finally the course of action I wanted became apparent.

      "Guys," I said, firmly, "would you go with me to the Neopian Bazaar after school today? I'll tell Rilla that I'm going home myself, for once."

     ***

      "Well, this is it," Satisha whispered to me as we stood at the door of the classroom, a day later. Sekya and her sister, the Kacheek, had just arrived and were in the process of unpacking their books and pencils. The Wocky gave me a nudge.

      "Go on, then! Quick!"

      Nodding with renewed confidence, I marched up over to them. Sekya gazed at me coldly.

      "What do you want, Uni?"

      I was not to be deterred. Beaming the widest smile I could muster, I set the beautifully-wrapped package on her desk.

      The Gelert's eyes narrowed. "What's this?"

      "It's for you," I pronounced, cheerfully. "A gift. From my friends and I."

      I watched as she tore off the bright paper and opened the little box within. A scornful blue paw pulled out a Rainbow Gelert Plushie.

      "Isn't it great?" I blurted out, feeling triumphant. "We bought it for you, four of us, with our pocket money, and we do hope you and your friends will like it.. that is.."

      Sekya's expression did not change as she regarded the plushie. Then her eyes locked on mine, and I saw raw fury in them.

      "What do you mean by this, Uni?" she hissed viciously at me. "What do you expect me to do with this, huh? Sell it, I suppose, so our poor starving owner can afford to buy us real food instead of sending us to the Soup Kitchen?"

      Amazed, confused and reeling with shock at her violent reaction, I stepped back a pace. "W-well.. if you.. really need it that much.."

      "Bah," the Gelert spat. Glaring at me fiercely, she pushed the toy roughly into my limp hooves. "I don't need you or your prissy ilk, Uni, any more than I need this... this... thing. Take it back, and go away."

      Too overcome to do anything but obey, I fled to the sanctuary of my desk, hardly heeding the mutterings and whispers of the onlookers who had gathered at the scene.

     ***

      From that day onwards, life at Neoschool was a misery.

      Sekya evidently wasn't prepared to forgive me over the plushie incident. There was more than disdain in her eyes now; it was malice. She and her friends, Virgil the Lenny and Mari the Kacheek, still kept their distance from us, but when the Gelert looked at me now, her eyes blazed white-hot anger.

      Her attitude towards me, it seemed, had an effect on the rest of my class. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but my classmates seemed to distance themselves from me after that morning. There was never any open hostility as there was with Sekya, but I sensed a reservation in their manner that was never there when they talked to each other. When I asked So-and-So to pass me paint during art class, for instance, or lend me an eraser, they'd nod, and duly carry out my task. There were no smiles, no friendliness.

      Satisha, SugarFlower and Farowyn had apparently been tarred with the same Paintbrush simply by hanging out with me. But they stuck to me nonetheless. I was grateful for their support and comfort, but even so, I felt guilty that they should have to deal with the same problems as me through no fault of their own. I'd brought up the idea of them not hanging out with me in school anymore, but they had all unanimously and feelingly shot me down. Part of me warmed to think that at least I had friends at all, but in the other, the guilt persisted, eating at me until I wasn't sure what to feel.

      Worst of all, I had long ago decided that I could not mention any of this to Mother. She already thought she was a bad owner. If she heard about this, she'd think it was her fault, and I was determined to convince her that she was a good owner, the best a pet could have! Besides, she'd told me to make her proud. How could I tell her I was letting her down? No, she must not know, even though I wished, achingly, that I could.

      The garden seemed to be the only place I could find any sort of solace, sometimes playing with Satisha (and SugarFlower and Farowyn, on one occasion), at other times simply sitting and thinking to myself. I spent many an hour under the autumn-clad Heart Fruit Trees in the afternoons, stroking my Faellie and feeling my inner chaos gnaw at me. This was all too much. Why did everything have to be so complicated? And still I could not think of what to do about Sekya. I was taking Farowyn's advice at last, and letting well alone, but I could always feel Sekya's ill-will blasting at me from across the room like a scorching wind. And I hated it.

      The crunch came when Mother called me into her room when she returned home one Sunday evening.

      "I have a surprise for you, Maybellene," she pronounced, smiling proudly at me. I looked at her, curious and puzzled. She showed me the object she held in both her hands, still beaming at me.

      It was a Faerie Paintbrush.

      "I thought you might like a change of colour," Mother continued blithely, seeming not to notice me start at the sight of it. "And the Faerie Unis are very attractive, you have to admit. I thought I'd get a present for you for doing so well in Neoschool. Well? What do you think?"

      A mixture of dread and terror shot through me as I imagined what Sekya would think, but at the same time a soaring elation suffused me. I had loved the Faerie Uni look since I had first laid eyes on it, truth be told. But oh dear, how could I face them at school wearing the most coveted coat colour of all time in Colour Me Painted Magazine?

      But I knew what I had to say. Mother must not know...

      "It's... it's wonderful, Mother," I gritted, forcing a smile. "I'd... love being a Faerie Uni."

      Sweat was breaking out on my now-obsolete pink coat, but Mother seemed not to notice that either.

           "Wonderful! We'll make a trip to the Rainbow Pool right now."

     ***

      "Well, someone took the time to get groomed today," Sekya commented scornfully to a group of pets standing around her. Her voice was soft, but she had obviously meant me to hear her. Any other Uni in Neopia would have been perfectly happy to have this paint job, I thought, gazing glumly at my made-over self; the pale blue hide, the snowy mane and tail, the delicate pale rose wings, the horn of polished ivory. But despite all that, part of me wanted to smile. The Faerie Uni look was even more stunning in real life.

      "Ignore them, May," Satisha whispered, shooting them a glare. "I think you look wonderful."

      "It's beautiful," SugarFlower agreed. "You don't have to care about what they think, May. We're your friends and we'll stick by you," she added loyally.

      I smiled at the white Usul. Instead of intimidating her, as I had imagined the situation would, she seemed to have taken new courage from it and become bolder, more confident. I admired her. At least Sekya didn't openly target any of us except me. I'd have hated for Sugar to be bullied by her and her cronies.

      "Guys," I began haltingly as we took our places, "thanks, guys. I... really needed all of you. But... I just don't want to take this anymore. I don't want this whole thing... I don't want to be judged anymore. And...and I don't know how to stop it," I ended miserably.

      "There's nothing we can do anymore," Farowyn stated firmly. "No matter what we do, it won't make any difference to Sekya. She's made up her mind about you and she won't budge. We just have to live it down, May. it's not your fault, and it's most unfortunate, but we just have to bear it."

      "That can't be true," Satisha broke in fervently. "There has to be some way to make that Gelert see... you can't give up, Wyn! We just have to think a little harder."

      The two of them argued out the possibilities of my situation while SugarFlower gazed up at me solemnly. "Do you think there's a chance, May? For things to change, I mean?"

      I shook my head. "I just don't know. Maybe I just need a little inspiration..."

      "Good morning, class," came Mrs. Sandestripe's voice from the door. She stalked in and stood at the front of the class, holding a clipboard. "Today, before I start my lesson, I'd like to give a little announcement. Our school's Great Outdoors Society is organising a little camping trip over this coming weekend for you first-years, to give you all a chance to get closer to nature and see what the Society is all about. It's to be held in Lupeford's Wood, up north of here, which is lovely at this time of autumn, I hear. If you're interested in going, then raise your paw and I'll take down your names and give you more details."

      Several paws, claws, hooves and wings were raised at once above eager faces as Mrs. Sandestripe began to scribble down names busily. Regarding the interested parties, curiously, I saw Sekya's blue paw among them. Mari's stubby arm was up in the air too, and Virgil's red wing.

      Slowly, hesitantly, I lifted up my hoof.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Superficial: Part One
» Superficial: Part Two
» Superficial: Part Three
» Superficial



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